Plant Vogtle Unit 3 (Photo credit: Georgia Power)

ATLANTA – The first of two new nuclear reactors at Georgia Power’s Plant Vogtle is generating electricity for the first time, the Atlanta-based utility announced during the weekend.

Unit 3 at the plant south of Augusta has successfully synchronized and connected to the electric grid, putting the reactor on a path toward going into full commercial operation in May or June.

“What an incredibly inspiring time to join Georgia Power as we celebrate this milestone that marks the first day of generating clean, reliable power at this new nuclear unit, which will serve our customers over the next 60 to 80 years,” said Kim Greene, Georgia Power’s new chairman, president and CEO, who began her new role late last month.

“As we approach commercial operation for Unit 3, I know that every professional who has been involved in this project or worked at Plant Vogtle is proud of the role they have played in helping build a clean energy future for Georgia.”

Getting Unit 3 into service has been a long time coming. The first unit in the Plant Vogtle expansion originally was expected to begin operating in 2016, followed a year later by the second, Unit 4.

But a series of delays put the project years behind schedule and drove up the price tag to more than double the $14 billion forecast when the Georgia Public Service Commission approved the expansion in 2009.

The delays and cost overruns prompted the project’s critics to call for pulling the plug on the expansion and opting for renewable energy instead. But Georgia Power officials argued renewable technology including solar and wind power are too intermittent to rely on as the main sources of generating electricity.

Meanwhile, Unit 4 at Plant Vogtle is projected to go into service late this year or early next year. Unit 4 began hot functional testing last month, the last series of major tests ahead of initial fuel load.