SCE&G — which initially said it did not have a report critical of the company’s failed nuclear project — now says it has the document, according to a state watchdog agency.
But the utility won’t release it, says an attorney for the Office of Regulatory Staff.
SCE&G told the Office of Regulatory Staff at least eight months ago that the company did not have a report by the Bechtel Corp., said Shannon Bowyer Hudson, an attorney for the regulatory staff office. But since early last week, the power company has confirmed to regulators that it has a report by Bechtel, she said.
The company said it won’t give the report to the ORS because the document is considered private information shared between an attorney and a client, said Hudson, recounting a recent discussion she had with SCE&G’s legal counsel.
Information gathered by Bechtel came up at legislative hearings last week on the bungled V.C. Summer nuclear project. The report could be critical in determining whether state regulators agree to let SCE&G recoup more money from ratepayers. The utility has already charged customers $1.7 billion for the failed project.
Lawmakers said they would subpoena SCE&G for the Bechtel report.
“SCE&G does say they do have the Bechtel report, but they would not release it to us as it was a legal matter subject to attorney-client privilege,’’ Hudson told The State newspaper Thursday. “It has been since the Senate committee’’ meeting last week.
“We were told ..... if we were to ask for it, (SCE&G) would not be releasing it,’’ Hudson said.
SCE&G spokesman Eric Boomhower said a law firm representing SCE&G and Santee Cooper retained Bechtel “in anticipation’’ of litigation expected with Westinghouse, the project’s chief contractor that filed bankruptcy in late March. SCE&G, a division of SCANA, was the senior partner on the project. Both SCE&G and state-owned Santee Cooper blame Westinghouse for contributing to the project’s demise.
“SCANA prefers to respect the legislative review process by not commenting on its actions in response to the report at this time,’’ Boomhower said in an email.
House and Senate committees are expected to hold hearings later this month as a follow up to meetings they convened in August on why the project failed.
State Rep. James Smith, a Columbia Democrat who serves on a special house utility committee, said the power company’s conflicting stories are a concern.
“It appears to be evidence of an effort to mislead,’’ Smith said. “They need to be forthcoming with all that information. We’ve all asked for this report. Where is it?’’
State Sen. Shane Massey, R-Edgefield, said the company legally might be able to keep the report secret but doing that is not a good idea.Massey is co-chairman of a Senate committee looking into the nuclear project failure.
“We are being led to believe that there is information in that report that is critical of the management or performance” on the construction project, he said. “If that’s the case, then yeah, that is something we want to see.’’
SCE&G and partner Santee Cooper walked away from the project July 31 after spending about $9 billion on it during the past nine years. The companies collectively hit customers with 14 rate increases to finance the work. So far, ratepayers from the two companies have been assessed about $2 billion for a project that now will not be completed.
During last week’s legislative hearing, Santee Cooper board chairman Leighton Lord said an analysis by Bechtel had been provided to the utilities in 2015. Santee Cooper, a junior partner in the failed project, tried to implement the report’s recommendations, he said at the hearing.
The power companies say they quit the project, not only because chief contractor Westinghouse filed for bankruptcy, but the effort was becoming too expensive to continue. SCE&G has said it could not stick with the project after Santee Cooper decided to pull out.