Surrounded by fellow politicians and other dignitaries gathered at the Plant Vogtle nuclear expansion in Waynesboro, Ga., U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry on March 22 announced nearly $3.7 billion in new federal loan guarantees for the schedule-challenged construction project. Vogtle, the nation’s lone remaining nuclear expansion project, “supports a reliable and resilient grid, and strengthens our energy and national security.” Perry said.

“Securing these loans plays a key role by reducing our financing costs and passing along those benefits to our customers,” added Paul Bowers, Georgia Power CEO.

To date, the Vogtle project has received approximately $12 billion in federal loan guarantees, according to the Dept. of Energy (DOE). Of the latest, $1.67 billion was allotted to Georgia Power—which owns 45.7% of the project—$1.6 billion to Oglethorpe Power Corp.; and $415 million to three subsidiaries of the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia.

Currently, Georgia Power and its contractor, Bechtel Corp., are targeting a substantial completion date of April 2021 for Unit 3. While Southern Co. CEO Thomas Fanning spoke optimistically about the project team meeting that deadline during a recent earnings call, Georgia regulators offered a more pessimistic assessment last November when they surmised that it would be “highly unlikely” that the current schedule will be achieved.

In their assessment, state monitors noted that the highest monthly percent complete rate achieved to date was 1.76%. To meet the schedule for Unit 3, contractors would have to reach a peak monthly percent complete rate of 4.3%, they stated. At the end of 2018, regulators estimated Unit 3 to be 59% complete, and Unit 4 42% complete.

Numerous parties disparaged DOE’s latest financial backing. Commenting that the project “has only become more risky and less economic since it was first proposed,” Sara Barczak, regional advocacy director with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, stated: “We are appalled at the lack of transparency in this process despite all of our efforts to get more information as to the risks facing taxpayers.”

Debbie Dooley, president of the Atlanta Tea Party and Conservatives for Energy Freedom, added that DOE’s action “is more than disappointing as it flies in the face of the values of true conservatives who don’t believe in bailing out corporations for bad decisions.”

Last September, after a $2.3-billion escalation in the project’s cost, Georgia Power reached an agreement with the other project owners to shoulder a greater percentage of future cost increases, should they occur.