Groups Fight Rate Hikes For Abandoned S.C. Nuclear Project

Aug 7, 2017

Updated 2:58 p.m.
Environmental groups are asking South Carolina regulators to let them comment as two utilities seek to recover billions of dollars in costs for a scuttled nuclear project. Friends of the Earth and the Sierra Club said in a filing with the Public Service Commission that the utilities shouldn’t be allowed to charge customers for a project that will never produce electricity.  

Santee Cooper and South Carolina Electric & Gas announced last week they won't finish construction on two new reactors at the V.C. Summer plant north of Columbia.  They blamed the bankruptcy of project contractor Westinghouse for the situation.

Consumers have already paid for part of the $9 billion already spent.  SCE&G, a unit of SCANA Corp., is asking regulators for permission to recover $4.9 billion in costs related to the abandoned project over the next 60 years. (SCE&G told regulators last week it hopes to reduce that amount to about $2.2 billion after payments from Westinghouse's parent, Toshiba, and tax deductions.)

South Carolina was one of several states that passed laws a decade ago allowing utilities to charge customers up front for nuclear plant projects and to recoup their investments, even if the plants never open.

Friends of the Earth and the Sierra Club say they'll fight the rate request, and push for more alternative energy projects in the state. In a statement, Friends of the Earth says it's unacceptable that customers won't get electricity - or any benefits - for what they've already paid. They want regulators to review decisions made by SCE&G and to issue refunds for what customers have already paid.

“Due to growing pressure from the public and legislators, the PSC (S.C. Public Service Commission) will not be able to simply rubber stamp passing the cost onto SCE&G’s ratepayers,” said Tom Clements, senior adviser with Friends of the Earth. “We will fight this unjust plan and make sure that the company and its shareholders are put on the financial hook for the bad decisions made by SCE&G since 2008.  

Some South Carolina lawmakers are asking for a special session to review the abandoned project. But the Associated Press reported Friday that House Speaker Jay Lucas says calls to freeze electric rates and stop any other action involving the reactors is impulsive and there isn't a reason to immediately call a special session.

At least 5,000 workers are affected by the project's shutdown.