Vogtle Unit 3 has begun commercial operations and is now providing power to customers in Georgia, Southern Co. subsidiary Georgia Power announced on Monday.
It is the first newly-constructed nuclear unit in the U.S. in more than 30 years, Georgia Power said. A second reactor, Vogtle Unit 4, is expected to be in service in late fourth quarter 2023 or the first quarter of 2024.
On Friday, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced that it had authorized Southern Nuclear Operating Co. to load fuel and begin operating Vogtle Unit 4.
“With Unit 3 completed, and Unit 4 in the final stages of construction and testing, this project shows just how new nuclear can and will play a critical role in achieving a clean energy future for the United States,” Chris Womack, president and CEO of Southern Co., said in a statement.
Today “marks the first day of the next 60 to 80 years that Vogtle Unit 3 will serve our customers with clean, reliable energy," added Kim Greene, chairman, president and CEO of Georgia Power.
“Once all four units are online, the Plant Vogtle site will be the largest generator of clean energy in the nation,” Georgia Power said.
Southern Nuclear will operate Vogtle 3 and 4 on behalf of the co-owners — Georgia Power (45.7%), Oglethorpe Power (30%), the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia (22.7%) and Dalton Utilities (1.6%).
While the reactors will add a total of more than 2 GW of emissions-free capacity to the grid, they have been the subject of controversy for their delays and cost overruns.
Unit 3 and 4 were originally expected to go into service in 2016 and 2017, respectively. The cost to build them has more than doubled to over $30 billion.
With Vogtle Unit 3 beginning commercial operation, “the average residential customer can now expect a $5.46 increase in their average monthly bill,” the Southern Environmental Law Center said in a press release.
“Georgia Power customers can expect three additional rate hikes between now and 2025 that will cost the average residential customer an additional $24 a month, for a total bill increase of $48 a month compared to bills in 2022,” with one of those coming rate hikes also due to Plant Vogtle, SELC added.
“While capital-intensive and expensive projects may benefit Georgia Power’s shareholders who have enjoyed record profits throughout Vogtle’s beleaguered construction, they are not the least-cost option for Georgians who are feeling the sting of repeated bill increases,” said SELC Staff Attorney Bob Sherrier.
“For customers who have been paying for this project for well over a decade, we hope that Georgia Power and the Commission will prioritize proven cost-effective solutions like solar and energy efficiency programs that will help Georgians control energy costs and lower their monthly bills.”
While nuclear continues to be an important part of the clean energy equation in the U.S., the focus is increasingly on small modular reactors, with several companies advanced through licensing and other stages on their way to commercial operation.