Construction on two next-generation nuclear reactors is steady again after issues with a supplier caused delays the past few years, South Carolina Electric & Gas (SCE&G) officials told reporters Wednesday.
SCE&G leaders gave media outlets a tour of the massive construction site 25 miles northwest of Columbia to show progress on the V.C. Summer Nuclear Generating Station units set to open in 2019 and 2020. Officials at SCE&G’s holding company SCANA had originally hoped to have the first AP1000 reactor online by this year when work began at the site in 2008, but several delays has pushed back the date to June 2019.
The cost has also gone up an additional $2.4 billion from initial expectations, leading to rate hikes for SCE&G energy customers. Those customers now pay among the highest rates in the Southeast.
“You’re not going to go through a project that’s going to be 10 or 12 years without issues coming up,” SCANA CEO Kevin Marsh said. “I would offer, if you’ve ever built a house… you had a couple issues.”
The V.C. Summer Units 2 and 3 will be the first new nuclear reactors top open in South Carolina since 1986. By the time the two new units come online, the reactors will be among the first nationwide in 30 years (two other reactors under construction by the Southern Company in Georgia are slated to come online at roughly the same time). The nuclear power company Westinghouse and construction group Fluor are building the reactors near Jenkinsville. SCE&G is paying 55 percent of the costs, while state-owned utility Santee Cooper is funding the other 45 percent.
SCE&G’s Chief Operating Officer Stephen Byrne says the fact that the reactors are the first of their kind is partly what caused the construction hiccups. The utility has blamed a Louisiana plant which had trouble meeting deadlines for the submodules used to assemble the reactor. Westinghouse eventually acquired the plant operator Stone & Webster to streamline its supply line. Meanwhile, the company is also diversifying its suppliers and doing more on-site work on those modules, he said.
“The pace of this project is quickening,” he said. “We have run into some issues and roadblocks in the past. Most of those issues and roadblocks are behind us.”
The first reactor vessel that will house the Unit 2 reactor was set into place last month, he said. That reactor is set to go online in June 2019. The Unit 3 reactor will follow a year later, if the work remains on schedule (Unit 1 is the designation for the V.C. Summer Site’s current reactor that began operating in 1984).
That timeline is critical for SCANA, who hopes to benefit from federal nuclear production tax credits that could pay back some of its construction overruns. The plants’ price tag rose from an estimated $11.4 billion to more than $13.7 billion. However, Marsh said the utilities have now entered an fixed-cost agreement that requires the contractors cover the losses if the project goes above $13.9 billion.
But those federal tax credits require the plants be in service by April 2021. Byrne said both plants should meet that deadline, but the margin for Unit 3 is small and does not allow for any further significant delays.
When SCE&G first started work at the site in 2008, it appeared at the time other utilities would follow suit. However, rising nuclear costs and falling natural gas prices discouraged all others besides Southern Company. But Byrne and Marsh still insist nuclear was the correct decision as the company looks towards the long term.
“If I took a short view… we’d probably build more natural gas (plants),” he said. “But we took a long view. These assets are designed to last 60 years. We think we’ll be able to go 60 and probably re-license even further.”