ATLANTA ((DailyNews)) — A new reactor at a nuclear power plant in Georgia has reached its full power output for the first time and is scheduled to enter commercial operation within the next month.
Georgia Power Co. announced Monday that Unit 3 at Plant Vogtle, southeast of Augusta, has reached its full output of 1,100 megawatts of electricity. That’s enough to power an estimated 500,000 homes and businesses. The power will be sent to Georgia and other states.
Operators are conducting further testing to prove they can run the reactor in ways required for regular operations, Georgia Power CEO Kim Greene in a statement, calling the achievement “an exciting milestone.”
“It tells us we’re close to finishing the unit safely and bringing it online to power Georgia homes and businesses with reliable, emissions-free energy for decades to come,” she said.
The fourth reactor has finished a key testing phase and operators expect to start loading radioactive fuel between July and October, aiming for the reactor to reach commercial operation between December and March 2024.
Units 3 and 4 at Plant Vogtle are the first new reactors built from scratch in decades in the United States.
The first two reactors have been generating electricity at Vogtle for decades. A third and a fourth reactor were approved for construction at Vogtle by the Georgia Public Service Commission in 2009, and the third reactor was supposed to start generating power in 2016.
The cost of the third and fourth reactors was originally supposed to be $14 billion, but are now on track to cost the owners $31 billion. That doesn’t include $3.7 billion that original contractor Westinghouse paid to the owners after going bankrupt, which brings total spending to almost $35 billion.
In Georgia, almost every electric customer will pay for Vogtle. Georgia Power, the largest unit of Atlanta-based Southern Co., currently owns 45.7% of the reactors. Smaller shares are owned by Oglethorpe Power Corp., which provides electricity to member-owned cooperatives, the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia and the city of Dalton. Oglethorpe and MEAG plan to sell power to cooperatives and municipal utilities across Georgia, as well in Jacksonville, Florida, and parts of Alabama and the Florida Panhandle.
Georgia Power’s 2.7 million customers are already paying part of the financing cost and elected public service commissioners have approved a monthly rate increase of $3.78 a month for residential customers as soon as the third unit begins generating power. That could hit bills in July, a month after residential customers see a $16-a-month increase to pay for higher fuel costs. Georgia Power also raised rates by 2.5% in January after commissioners approved a separate three-year rate plan. Increases of 4.5% will follow in 2024 and 2025 under that plan.
Commissioners will decide later who pays for the remainder of the costs of Vogtle, including the fourth reactor.