Conservationists and ratepayers are asking the S.C. Public Service Commission to deny SCE&G’s latest request for a $283 million cash infusion from utility users to pay for two nuclear reactors under construction in Fairfield County.
The energy company – which is building the $9.8 billion reactors with state-owned utility Santee Cooper – says it needs the money for certain anticipated costs that arise during construction. The commission declined to approve contingency funds for the project during the initial approval, directing the utility to seek approval each time contingency funds are needed during construction.
Nearly 100 people turned out Tuesday night to a public hearing in Columbia to speak out about the requested additional funds.
The challengers said the new nuclear plants are too expensive and should be denied by the commission. The Sierra Club, a national conservation group, said the requested increase is too much for ratepayers who in some cases are struggling with job losses and reduced incomes.
SCE&G contends the contingency funds are part of the normal construction ebb and flow of such massive projects.
The $283 million SCE&G request is the second infusion of money the company has asked for, coming on the heels of a $177 million request through the commission earlier.
Earlier in the day Tuesday, SCE&G testified before the commission, explaining the need for the new nuclear plants and the requesting the funds and changed construction dates. SCE&G wants the commission to approve date changes it announced earlier this year for the completion of the new reactors to 2017 and 2018 instead of 2016 and 2019.
Around two dozen speakers addressed the commission in a public meeting that lasted about three hours Tuesday night.
“We felt there would be cost overruns (on the Summer plant), so we took our life savings and put it in insulation and solar power,” said Cassandra Fralix, a retired school teacher who lives in Lexington, who asked the commission to reject the SCE&G request.
“I’m angry you’re even thinking of giving more money to nuclear in South Carolina,” said Sandra Wright of Columbia, addressing the commission.
“Solar - that’s my thing,” she told the panel, complaining that taxpayers are called upon to give incentives to the utility, only to have the utility work against providing tax breaks to residents who want to solarize their homes for efficiency and cost.
The hearings continue today when a national analyst testifies before the commission against the increases SCE&G is requesting.
The Sierra Club said SCE&G ratepayers cannot afford the utility bills they are being required to pay in order for SCE&G to continue building the two plants, and it is asking the commission to cancel the project and find a less costly method of providing additional electricity capacity.
SCE&G, the state’s largest utility and a SCANA Corp. subsidiary, is well on the way to building the new reactors and already has invested more than $2.3 billion in the project, the company said.
The Sierra Club says SCE&G ratepayers already have been hit with five rate increases over the past two years to help foot the cost of the construction project, and they could be saved billions of dollars more if the Commission stops the project now.
“We have all along asserted that this is not the most prudent choice, on the part of the utility or the Public Service Commission,” said Susan Corbett, Sierra Club local chairwoman. “When we intervened at the very beginning, we did so on the basis it is not the best choice – that the costs were going to skyrocket, and what we’re seeing now is that all these things we predicted are coming true.”
But utility spokeswoman Rhonda O’Banion said the long-term project is “designed to ensure our customers have clean, safe and reliable energy for decades to come.”
She said the cost of the project in “future dollars,” measured using current inflation rates, is about $500 million less than the original projected cost.