Georgia Power's multi-billion-dollar Plant Vogtle nuclear expansion project appears to be continuing to experience delays and cost overruns. That is the conclusion arrived at by the project's official construction monitor, Dr. William R. Jacobs, despite the lack of critical schedule information from the contractor, a "consortium" led by Chicago Bridge & Iron and its partner, Westinghouse. ("Consortium" is the term used by project and state officials when referring to the construction team.)

There are two sides to many stories, and the Plant Vogtle Unit 3 and 4 expansion project—as complex and challenging as any in the country—surely is multi-faceted. Georgia Power tells its side of the story in its 3Q 2014 Timeline video, published in late October and featured below. There, the utility explains that "the summer was busier than ever at the site," and notes that "many new milestones have been accomplished." The Unit 3 cooling tower, which will eventually reach 601 ft high, is roughly two-thirds complete, for instance.

Video by Georgia Power

Georgia Power's video definitely provides an interesting view into this high-profile project, and I encourage readers to give it a look. But it certainly doesn't tell the whole story of what's happening at the project. When mentioning the recent publication of the 11th Vogtle construction monitor (VCM) report, for instance, utility spokesman Joe Washington states: "The good news is [that] no changes were made to the overall projected costs and in-service dates for units three and four."

Actually, according to Dr. Jacobs' Nov. 21 testimony to the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC), the lack of a cost and schedule update is sort of the bad news. As Jacobs, the PSC's independent construction monitor, notes: "A complete integrated project schedule (IPS) through the commercial operation date (COD) of each unit has not been provided." Jacobs goes on to raise his "particular concern" that the utilities have not reaffirmed the latest forecast CODs, which are late 2017 for Unit 3 and late 2018 for Unit 4. The implication of this "particular concern" is that those dates may no longer be realistic.

blog post photo
Image by Georgia Power

In effect, says Jacobs, the Vogtle project is operating without a current and credible project schedule. That fact, he says, "runs counter to any prudent project management, nuclear or otherwise; the engineering, procurement, and construction agreement requirements; and the nuclear industry's own self-funded INPO (Institute of Nuclear Power Operations) Principles for Excellence in Nuclear Project Construction."

Jacobs goes on to comment that the construction consortium has not performed well, noting that while just two activities are on schedule, "the majority have slipped."

In conclusion, he states: "[We] believe that the CODs will be further delayed. At this time, given the consortium's performance to date of significant delays in completing NI (nuclear island) activities, the lack of an IPS and the required (schedule) compression activities that the consortium intends to deploy, it is impossible to determine a reasonable forecast range as to when the units could be commercially available."

Let's read that last statement again: "It is impossible to determine a reasonable forecast range as to when the units could be commercially available." Now, let that sink in.

These delays—which Jacobs estimates will eventually add $2 million per day to the project's cost—are definitely impacting its economics, adds Steven Roetger, who also works for the PSC. 

"The units are still expected to provide significant fuel savings; however, these savings will likely be smaller than what had been estimated at certification," Roetger says, adding that this fact makes the nuclear power option less economically advantageous, and likely more costly to ratepayers than initially reported.

Readers can take a look at the full testimony of Jacobs and Roetger—as well as that of others—at the Georgia PSC web site page for docket number 29849, featured here.

ENR will continue to follow and report on the Vogtle construction project, no matter how long it takes to complete. In the meantime, below are two pretty cool, and quick, time-lapse videos from Georgia Power showing a couple of recent construction milestones.

Crews place the 51-ft-tall lower ring for the Unit 3 nuclear island. The unit weighs 950 tons, making it one of the project's largest lifts, according to Georgia Power.

The subsequent placement of the 180,000-pound CA05 module within the Unit 3 Nuclear Island occurred on Oct. 20, 2014.