SCE&G blasted a state agency Monday for trying to obtain more records as part of its case before the state Public Service Commission to cut the rates of 700,000-plus S.C. customers stung by the bungled V.C. Summer nuclear expansion project.
The Cayce-headquartered utility said it has released thousands of pages of documents already. But it said the S.C. Office of Regulatory Staff “painted a grossly incomplete and misleading’’ characterization of why the utility has been reluctant to release some documents.
Officials with the state Office of Regulatory Staff have said SCE&G misled S.C. lawmakers by claiming that a critical report by the Bechtel Corp. legally was kept confidential because it was prepared for a possible lawsuit against the project’s chief contractor, Westinghouse. The report found an array of problems on the V.C. Summer project site.
Regulatory Staff wants documents related to the Bechtel report to help make the case that SCE&G's customers should have their power bills cut rather than continue to pay an extra $27 a month, on average, for two now-abandoned nuclear reactors that won’t be finished.
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In filings Monday with the PSC, SCE&G said it did not mislead anyone about the Bechtel report's purpose, which, the utility says, was to prepare to sue Westinghouse.
SCE&G said it would release some of the Bechtel documents, but it was unclear how many pages that would entail and whether it would satisfy the Office of Regulatory Staff. The company also said it would not release other records still being sought by the agency.
The utility said Regulatory Staff isn’t entitled to many of the records because they contain highly sensitive information or information irrelevant to its customers' electric rates. That includes records that SCE&G has turned over to criminal investigators who are looking into why the nuclear construction project collapsed, SCE&G said. The company said it might release more records, but only if Regulatory Staff would promise not to release them to the public — a promise the agency is reluctant to agree to.
“ORS …. seeks to compel production of documents and information wholly irrelevant’’ to proceedings before the state Public Service Commission, SCE&G said in its PSC filing. “ORS similarly has requested extensive amounts of confidential and sensitive information without providing adequate assurance that such information will be protected if produced.’’
Columbia lawyer Bob Guild, who represents two environmental groups seeking refunds for SCE&G's ratepayers, said the utility's efforts to keep documents secret are attempts to “put the cat back in the bag.'' Guild noted SCE&G has said it would release some documents if Regulatory Staff or environmental groups would sign confidentiality agreements.
“The public …. is following every scrap of information that comes out about this, and this information is killing the company," Guild said. "The company figures it can only prevail if it is behind closed doors.’’
SCE&G did release some documents with its PSC filing Monday. They included handwritten notes where officials of SCE&G and Santee Cooper appear to disagree on why Bechtel was hired. "Could we have two reports one public/one not?" the notes read at one point.
Another email suggests that Westinghouse and its partners were anxious that problems at the V.C. Summer site not be broadcast to another Westinghouse client.
Another clearly says Bechtel was hired in anticipation of a lawsuit, but a subsequent renegotiation of Westinghouse's contract made that suit "unnecessary" and Bechtel's recommendations "obsolete."
In addition to criticizing Regulatory Staff, SCE&G said the Bechtel report was prepared at the behest of Santee Cooper.
The state-owned utility wanted Bechtel to take a bigger role in the failing V.C. Summer project, which was being spearheaded by Westinghouse. Westinghouse and Bechtel are competitors. SCE&G says in its filings that a Santee Cooper official had a close relationship with Bechtel.
Records released by Santee Cooper show the state-owned utility increasingly grew concerned about the decadelong, $9 billion effort to build the new reactors at the V.C. Summer site in Fairfield County.
Neither utility notified the public about the extent of problems at that project — billions over budget and years behind schedule — until just before walking away from the effort July 31, 2017.