A state agency says SCE&G is refusing to give up records that could be used to justify rolling back monthly power bills the utility charges customers for the failed V.C. Summer nuclear construction project.
The state Office of Regulatory Staff says it needs the records to better understand what went wrong with the failed effort to build two reactors in Fairfield County, northwest of Columbia.
According to Regulatory Staff, the information being withheld by SCE&G includes:
▪ Summaries of auditors' reports.
▪ A 2016 estimate of the cost to complete the nuclear construction project.
▪ Records given to the FBI and other law enforcement agencies, investigating possible criminal fraud in the construction project.
▪ Meeting notes about the Bechtel report, a study that outlined massive problems with the project at least two years before SCE&G publicly revealed them.
“Many responses do not appear to comply in good faith’’ with laws requiring SCE&G to give up records, Regulatory Staff lawyer Jenny R. Pittman wrote in a May 9 letter obtained Thursday by The State.
Regulatory Staff is seeking the documents as part of its legal effort to roll back the $27-a-month charge that SCE&G continues to charge its residential customers for the bungled nuclear plant. The state Public Service Commission is expected to hold hearings on that issue late this year as well as Dominion Energy's proposed buyout of SCE&G's parent, SCANA.
SCE&G says some of the documents that it won’t release, including those surrounding the Bechtel report, are private because they involve attorney-client privilege. Generally, communications between an attorney and client are confidential.
But Pittman disputes that applies to the Bechtel report.
“The assertion of attorney-client privilege with respect to Bechtel being hired in preparation of litigation does not appear to apply,’’ she wrote.
The Public Service Commission could order the records released as part of a case before it to roll back SCE&G's rates, which the commission will hear later this year.
SCE&G and its partner, the state-owned Santee Cooper utility, quit the V.C. Summer project July 31 after spending $9 billion and about a decade on the construction project. So far, ratepayers have been charged more than $2 billion through higher monthly utility bills for the two abandoned reactors.
SCE&G’s refusal to release records to Regulatory Staff is the latest skirmish in a growing battle over documents that regulators and lawyers say they need to review. Attorneys for Friends of the Earth and the Sierra Club, which have cases before the PSC seeking to roll back SCE&G's rates, also have been rebuffed by the utility in their requests for records.
Bob Guild, a lawyer for the two environmental groups, said Thursday that SCE&G’s reluctance to work with the Office of Regulatory Staff isn’t surprising. The utility doesn’t want regulators, or the public, to see potentially damning information, he said.
In a letter Wednesday to Regulatory Staff, SCE&G said it and Virginia-based Dominion Energy have "made a good faith effort to provide information.''
However, SCE&G said it does not plan to produce some of the documents requested. Some — including records the utility has given to the FBI — are irrelevant to the rate case or contain "sensitive financial information'' that could hurt SCE&G's ability to compete as a business, the utility says.
The letter said SCE&G might release some information to Regulatory Staff if the agency signs an agreement not to disclose the material to the public. Regulatory Staff has not decided whether it would agree to those terms.
Guild said he expects the PSC eventually will require SCE&G to give up the records to his clients and to the Office of Regulatory Staff.
“Ultimately, they’ll have to cough this stuff up," he said. "I’m confident. But they know they can play this waiting game right now.''