By Molly Samuel – WABE
Toshiba has made its first payment to a group of Georgia utilities. The Japanese electronics company promised to pay more than $3 billion dollars to the companies building two nuclear reactors in Georgia, after a subsidiary of Toshiba that had been the project’s lead construction contractor went bankrupt.
The $300 million payment is the second piece of good news recently for the beleaguered nuclear power expansion project. Plant Vogtle, which is near Waynesboro, is the only nuclear construction project in the country.
The Vogtle expansion is billions of dollars over budget and more than five years behind schedule, and for most of this year the future of the project has been up in the air.
In March, Westinghouse, the lead contractor, went bankrupt, citing costs at Vogtle and another project in South Carolina for its financial problems.
After a summer spent looking at its options – including cancelling the project or converting it to natural gas – Georgia Power proposed to state regulators that construction on the reactors continue. But, the utility warned, a few things needed to fall into place: payments from Toshiba, more federal loan guarantees, and an extension of a federal tax credit.
Two of those things have now happened. Last week, the U.S. Department of Energy conditionally offered $3.7 billion in loan guarantees. That’s on top of more than $8 billion already backed by the DOE.
Toshiba making its payments was the second thing Georgia Power said was important to keep the project going.
“It is a good indication for the project that we received this payment from Toshiba,” said Jacob Hawkins, a spokesman for Georgia Power.
The last piece, extending a deadline for tax credits for the nuclear project, is up to Congress.
Liz Coyle, executive director of the consumer watchdog group, Georgia Watch, is not swayed by these developments.
“The units are still too costly, and there’s still too much uncertainty tied to completing the plants,” she said. “Are we going to see the kind of scrutiny that’s now happening in South Carolina?”
In South Carolina, a similar nuclear project was canceled earlier this year. Now there are lawsuits and investigations in that state.
Georgia regulators say they’ll decide in February if the nuclear expansion at Plant Vogtle should keep going. Meanwhile, construction continues.
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