COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - On Monday, a Senate panel at the South Carolina State House took its turn asking top utility executives, "What went wrong a V.C. Summer?"
After a House Panel created in the wake of the suspension of the V.C. Summer project questioned executives from SCANA and Santee Cooper on Friday, Senators took their turn on Monday.
Many questions surrounded an apparent lack of transparency on the part of utility companies to their customers, citing issues dating back years.
"2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 you kept having problems," said Senator Shane Massey (R), Edgefield. "You kept notifying. The delays kept getting longer. Why would you not terminate that contract?"
SCANA Senior Vice President, Stephen Byrne answered, ""Well, I don't know that we had grounds to terminate for cause. Now you can always terminate for owner's convenience...."
"Well you were having these problems that were affecting the contract," Massey volleyed back. "You were notifying them in writing... that's one of the grounds or termination for cause."
Byrne then responded: "So two points to that - one is we continued to need the power, we continued to need the plant to be built. So our desire was to complete construction, it wasn't to terminate."
Questions surround why SCANA and Santee Cooper did not notify customers sooner that the project's engineering plans were not viable, and construction kept getting delayed.
Another topic was the Bechtel report, which was a formerly secret review of the project that cited issues at the site well over a year before its July 2017 shutdown.
Santee Cooper execs claim the report was kept secret in case it was needed in litigation against the contractor of the project.
"Ultimately as we dealt with that and dealt with those problems that got so bad," said Lonnie Carter, former CEO of Santee Cooper. "Our contractor was not able to live up to and meet the targets that they needed to meet in order to deliver on the schedule they said they were gonna deliver on."
Lawmakers also questioned why so many rate increases were implemented, and what happens now? Who will cover the cost of the incomplete project? During the course of the project, Santee Cooper issued five rate increases; SCE&G issued seven.
While the project has been "abandoned," Carter was adamant that the companies and the state shouldn't walk away from the investment entirely, leaving the possibility for taking it back up years down the road.
The cost to maintain the project in the meantime, according to estimates from Carter and SCANA CEO, Kevin Marsh – would amount to about $11 million, conservatively.