SC House, Senate committees begin investigation of abandoned V.C. Summer nuclear project

SC House, Senate committees begin investigation of abandoned V.C. Summer nuclear project

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - A committee of South Carolina state senators began investigating the failed nuclear reactors project at the V.C. Summer plant in Fairfield County on Tuesday morning. A panel of senators in the V.C. Summer Nuclear Project Review Committee met for nearly six hours, questioning top SCANA and Santee Cooper utility company representatives.

The panel's goal is to learn what happened to cause the abandonment of two new nuclear reactors, to hold companies responsible accountable, and to protect ratepayers. 

On Tuesday morning, representatives of the Public Service Commission, and the Office of Regulatory staff kicked-off the first hearing. 

Then, after a brief break, SCANA staff announced to the panel that CEO Kevin Marsh had planned to testify but had to be rushed to the hospital's emergency room for pain. 

In Marsh's place, CFO Jimmy Addison and Senior VP Stephen Byrne spoke before lawmakers, answering questions. 

Addison and Byrne told the panel they figure it would cost electric ratepayers less, to wind down the reactors project now, than to continue it. They said they've been looking into new partners for the project, but that that comes with risks, too. 

To abandon the project, SCANA representatives calculate a cost of $2.2 billion. They told the senators they began evaluating the reactors project when partner Westinghouse went bankrupt on March 29, 2017, but first saw the project's cost above what was expected as early as in 2015. 

Santee Cooper, the state-owned utility and project partner, was represented by Board Chair Leighton Lord and CEO Lonnie Carter. They told the panel that proceeding with the project would have cost ratepayers 41% more, and that they first became concerned with Westinghouse in 2014. 

Panel Co-chair Sen. Shane Massey (R- Edgefield) asked SCANA and Santee Cooper how much it would cost to go forward with one reactor or both; there was confusion on what the real price would be. 

"I'm still not quite sure that I understand what the number is, about what it would cost to complete both reactors or just one reactor. So, I'm glad other people followed up on those questions as well. Look, I think we've got to get that number before we can make any decisions about going forward, and I would think honestly that if there are any other private partners out there, some other energy companies that might be interested, they need to know what those numbers are as well," Massey said.

The panel does plan to meet again, starting on September 13, next. They are still investigating what led to the abandonment, too. 

The project had been over-budget and behind schedule. But senators learned there was not a schedule for construction strictly followed, on Tuesday. 

"Thank you. So, we had a schedule. The problem is, the schedule was not followed?" Sen. Mike Fanning (D- Fairfield) asked the Office of Regulatory Staff's Dukes Scott. 

"You had a schedule back when the application was filed...but...I'm getting 'yes' back from the people on my staff who know," Scott replied. 

"Also, my question is, what is specifically needed to finish the two reactors and to give some kind of return to the ratepayers on their investment?" Fanning asked. 

"...Specifically needed to that? ...first of all, you're going to need more than one partner," Scott said. 

Scott added that it would take some financial help from the federal government, and state deciding how to hit ratepayers for funds. Scott noted that he that he thought that would be a "miracle."

Some power customers took to social media, over Twitter, on Tuesday. After watching the meeting feed online, some responded to WIS' meeting live-tweet, saying: 

"We need rate reduction. Not double talk to justify not getting it," and "Why should we have to pay for it? It's not our fault that Westinghouse went bankrupt."

Panel Co-chair Sen. Nikki Setzler (D- Lexington) said, "I believe this is one of the most serious business issues" in South Carolina. 

Later on Tuesday afternoon, an SCE&G update over Twitter indicated CEO Marsh was treated for kidney stones that afternoon at the hospital, and had been released. 

A House committee on utilities meets for a question and answer session surrounding the V.C. Summer fail on Wednesday morning at 10 a.m.

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