Santee Cooper is trying to block SCE&G from surrendering federal licenses that are crucial to one day finishing two partially built nuclear reactors at the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station.
The move calls into question tax credits worth hundreds of millions of dollars that SCE&G is trying to claim. The utility has promised to use that money, in part, to lower its customers’ electric rates.
The move also is sure to exacerbate tensions between the two one-time partners in the V.C. Summer project.
State-owned Santee Cooper asked the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Monday to delay acting on a request by SCE&G, a subsidiary of Cayce-based SCANA, to give up the nuclear operating licenses.
Santee Cooper’s letter, obtained Tuesday by The State, challenged SCE&G’s legal authority to unilaterally surrender the licenses, which are difficult to obtain. The licenses are crucial to preserving any chance the reactors could one day be completed – only a remote possibility after the two utilities abandoned the 10-year, $9 billion construction effort last July.
S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster, who has proposed selling Santee Cooper, praised the move.
“The governor has repeatedly indicated his desire to preserve the site and the potential to one day complete the reactors,” said McMaster’s spokesman, Brian Symmes. “He’s pleasantly surprised that Santee Cooper has requested more time to consider all factors involved in this decision.”
Efforts to reach SCE&G for comment Tuesday afternoon were unsuccessful.
SCE&G wants to give up the licenses – either to the NRC or to Santee Cooper – in order to claim roughly $2 billion in federal tax credits. SCANA has said the money would help pay off debt for the bungled construction project and lower the electric bills of its customers.
But to earn the tax credits, investor-owned SCANA must convince the Internal Revenue Service it has walked away entirely from the nuclear project. It is unclear whether a delay in the NRC’s decision would affect SCANA’s ability to collect those tax credit.
In its letter to the NRC, Santee Cooper says it still is deciding whether it wants the licenses. Santee Cooper also is considering SCE&G’s offer to transfer ownership of the Fairfield County construction site to the state-owned utility.
Santee Cooper asked the NRC to wait up to six months to decide on SCE&G’s request. Santee Cooper said it would use that time to evaluate any risks it could incur by taking on the nuclear licenses, a spokeswoman said.
“The last thing we want is some sort of unintended consequence that could bring harm to our customers,” Santee Cooper spokeswoman Mollie Gore said. “We don’t know what we don’t know, and we need time to look at it.”
In its letter to the NRC, Santee Cooper argued the federal agency does not permit companies to unilaterally surrender licenses they jointly hold with a construction partner.
Santee Cooper “notifies the NRC that it does not consent to the termination of the Unit 2 & 3 (licenses) at this time,” wrote senior vice president Michael Crosby.
NRC spokesman Roger Hannah said Tuesday the federal agency had not made a decision on the request for a delay. “We’ll evaluate the information in the letter and determine what needs to be done.”