The state Public Service Commission agreed Wednesday to let the public review a long-secret nuclear construction contract for SCE&G’s troubled atomic reactor expansion project in Fairfield County.
The contract, expected to be released on the agency's website as early as Thursday, includes details of the ambitious construction project that today is in jeopardy because chief contractor Westinghouse has filed for bankruptcy.
Among the details in the contract are the original projected cost, as well as changes that were made during the now over-budget construction project.
How significant the details are won’t be known until the commission puts the material on its website – but Rep. Kirkman Finlay, R-Richland, said the information could help ratepayers “understand what they bought.’’
SCE&G customers have been hit with nine electricity rate increases to pay for the project, but the work is only 33 percent complete and behind schedule. About 18 percent of a customer’s bill pays for the reactors’ construction. SCE&G and Santee Cooper, the state-owned power company that is a partner in the project, are now assessing whether to scrap the project.
The $14 billion project to build twin atomic reactors at the V.C. Summer power station is known to be about $3 billion over budget.
“What I think we’re going to see is a discrepancy in what was bid and what was paid — which I think is going to make us think long and hard about these projects,” said Finlay, a nuclear-power supporter but a critic of the Fairfield project’s secrecy and cost overruns.
Commissioners said it’s no longer necessary to keep the document out of the public eye, particularly since Westinghouse and SCE&G no longer oppose making the contract public. The state Office of Regulatory Staff, which advocates for consumers, asked for the document release.
“The public’s right to know far outweighs any confidential considerations regarding this issue,’’ said Commissioner Elizabeth Fleming.
Finlay and a representative of the S.C. League of Women Voters said after the meeting that the commission should limit keeping records secret.
The PSC agreed in 2008 to prevent public inspection of the new construction contract, saying that the release of cost information “would impair negotiations with vendors,’’ records show. The state’s open-records law allows an exemption for trade secrets to be kept out of public view. State regulators who were allowed to view the contract had to sign confidentiality agreements that they would not disclose details. Westinghouse wanted the material kept private to prevent competitors from learning details.
The two reactors would be the first built in South Carolina in decades and would accompany SCE&G’s existing reactor in Jenkinsville north of Columbia.
Meanwhile, the parent company of Westinghouse, Toshiba of Japan, is close to reaching an agreement with SCE&G’s parent, SCANA, to cap Toshiba's liability in the project, according to the Reuters news agency. That should help ease Toshiba's financial stress while it tries to sell its coveted chip business.
Reuters reported that Westinghouse Electric Co. told a U.S. court Tuesday the nuclear power company had reached a deal to borrow $800 million. That followed efforts to allay creditors' concerns that the money would be flowing to non-bankrupt affiliates overseas, the news service reported.