Southern Company (SO -0.49%) takes a long-term view of its business, even when that goes counter to Wall Street's desires. As one of the largest utility companies in the United States, it has the financial heft to make long-term investments.

For instance, its nuclear power plant expansion effort has been a sore spot for investors for years because of its expense. But the project is almost done and it's part of the big news you need to watch for at Southern Company in 2023.

A terrible story

Southern Company selected the site for two nuclear power plants, collectively known as the Vogtle project, in 2005. The project was approved in 2009 and was expected to cost around $14 billion, with Vogtle units 3 and 4 scheduled to come online in 2016 and 2017. The company faced a long list of delays and cost overruns, including the bankruptcy of its main contractor, Westinghouse, that resulted in Southern Company taking over the project.

A person in a nuclear power plant control room.

Image source: Getty Images.

The project is now expected to cost over $30 billion, and the two plants are scheduled to come online in 2023. These will be the first new nuclear power plants to start operating in the United States in more than 30 years. Given the hardships the utility and its investors (via a number of "one-time" charges) have faced, you can see why few companies have been willing to take on such a large, complex, and expensive project.

Southern, however, has stuck by the investment, and it is nearly complete.

The next steps

At this point, Southern has pegged the in-service date for Vogtle 3 as the first quarter of 2023 and for Vogtle 4 as the fourth quarter of 2023. Given the history here, those expectations could change. However, unit 3 has had its fuel loaded, and it is starting down its final testing path. The next big step is ensuring that it can support a sustained nuclear reaction, which is expected to happen in January. Then the unit is set to be powered up and down multiple times until it achieves full power. Once Vogtle 3 goes through its paces, it can be brought into service, and the lessons learned along the way will, the company hopes, help it to a more smooth completion of Vogtle 4.

Vogtle 4's fuel load won't occur until July or August in 2023, with a series of important milestones before and after. The hoped-for in-service date is now set for December 2023, which is pretty tight considering the history of the project. If it slips into 2024, the costs for the project will increase again, and Southern and its shareholders would be responsible for basically all of the extra cost. However, at this point, the end game here is to get the project done no matter what.

The benefits of having Vogtle complete, however, will be huge; this makes 2023 an important year for Southern Company. From an energy point of view, units 3 and 4 will produce enough power to supply half a million homes. Meanwhile, nuclear power, despite a negative image, produces no carbon emissions, so it is a clean energy source. And it is baseload power since it is always producing, which helps to smooth out the ups and downs from intermittent clean energy sources like solar and wind

From a financial point of view, having the project complete will shift Vogtle from an expense to a revenue-generating asset. Moreover, Wall Street's concerns about the project, assuming everything goes smoothly, will lift, and they will no longer be a headwind to the stock. That's not to suggest that Southern Company's price will rally, but without the concern of Vogtle, investors can focus more on the company's fundamental business, which remains strong.

It's go time

Southern Company has been working toward 2023 for nearly two decades. And despite the hardships it faced with this massive capital investment, it continued to increase its dividend. In fact, at this point, the utility has increased or maintained its dividend for 75 years. If you own the company, keep a close eye on Vogtle, the project is about to become even more important. If you don't own Southern but are looking for a reliable dividend stock (the yield is around 4% today), you might want to watch Vogtle, as well. This headline-grabbing concern could stop being a negative pretty soon.