SCE&G won a state agency’s approval for two now-abandoned nuclear reactors in Fairfield County without having a detailed construction schedule or cost estimate, S.C. House members were told Wednesday.
“We embarked on a multi-year, multi-billion project with a road map that we didn’t really believe was going to get us to the destination,” an incredulous state Rep. Kirkman Finlay, R-Richland, asked during the hours-long hearing. “Help me understand how we could have planned it less thoroughly.”
The 18-member House panel, which met for the first time Wednesday, is charged with identifying and rooting out flaws in state government that enabled the nuclear project’s failure, S.C. House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, said Wednesday.
That almost $10 billion project — abandoned in July after construction delays and cost overruns — already has cost SCE&G customers $1.4 billion in rate hikes. The Cayce-based utility also could charge those customers at least $2.2 billion more to close out the project.
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SCE&G was working off a “generic” construction schedule for the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station expansion — provided by its now-bankrupt contractor, Westinghouse — when it asked the S.C. Public Service Commission for approval of the project nearly a decade ago, Columbia attorney Scott Elliott told legislators.
The utility acknowledged that schedule, not specific to the V.C. Summer site, would not be able to accurately estimate its Fairfield County costs or construction time line, said Elliott, a former Public Service Commission member who now represents manufacturers — large power users — in rate-hike cases before the agency.
Still, the commission, which regulates investor-owned utilities, decided the project was “prudent,” citing the Base Load Review Act, which allows utilities to charge customers for the cost of nuclear reactors while under construction. That 2007 law had been passed quickly and overwhelmingly by S.C. lawmakers, Elliott noted.
The Public Service Commission — whose seven members are elected by the Legislature — likely took its pro-nuclear cues from legislators in signing off on the doomed venture, Elliott told the House panel.
“You’ve got a statute that says, ‘Build the plants,’ ” Elliott said.