Politics & Government

SCANA sticking with plans to abandon nuclear project, charge customers more

FILE: Kevin Marsh, CEO of SCANA Corp., gives an update on the nuclear plant project to the state Public Service Commission.
FILE: Kevin Marsh, CEO of SCANA Corp., gives an update on the nuclear plant project to the state Public Service Commission. gmelendez@thestate.com

SCE&G still will seek approval to abandon the V.C. Summer nuclear expansion project and charge its customers billions of dollars more for two unfinished reactors, utility executives told financial analysts Wednesday.

The Cayce-based company Tuesday withdrew those plans from a state regulatory board, pledging to give S.C. legislators time to examine what went wrong with the Fairfield County project.

But the delay will not be permanent, SCANA’s Kevin Marsh, chief executive and president of SCE&G’s parent company, told securities analysts. “In our discussions with the Legislature, we have not changed our position on abandonment.”

The call was held to explain to Wall Street why SCANA withdrew its legal petition Tuesday to abandon the V.C. Summer project and recover its costs from customers.

SCANA’s stock price rose — adding 42 cents a share to $62.22 in early trading — after Wednesday morning’s investor call was completed. However, it later settled.

The company has said it wants to charge customers – who have already paid $1.4 billion toward the project – at least another $2.2 billion to cover its costs. But Tuesday’s action by the company effectively delays any higher electricity rates that SCE&G customers might have to pay.

SCANA executives said Wednesday they plan to refile a petition to abandon the nuclear project, hinting legislators who investigate the nuclear bungle will see that abandoning it was the best option.

“You think about all these folks that have now been thrust into the process, this is not what they do every day,” SCANA chief financial officer Jimmy Addison said. “What they want is to be educated on the process and have their chance for input, and we completely respect that process, and we’ll comply with it.”

SCANA leaders are skeptical the project could or should be revived.

To restart construction of the reactors, SCANA would need a partner after the state-owned Santee Cooper utility, which owns 45 percent of the project, pulled out. Even if another utility volunteered, Marsh said the effort would require new partnership agreements, construction contracts and regulatory approvals. Reviving the project also likely would depend on the Base Load Review Act, which S.C. legislators seem intent on revising or repealing, Marsh said.

That 2007 law allowed SCANA to charge its customers for construction costs for the reactors while they were being built. In the past, the utility had to wait until a new power plant was producing power to recoup its cost.

Even then, there is the issue of paying to restart the project, costs that only will rise in the future.

It likely would take a year to restart the project, now that most of the 5,000 construction workers once at V.C. Summer Nuclear Station have been sent home, Marsh said. “It’s not something that would happen overnight.”

When SCE&G will reapply to abandon the project is unclear. Marsh said the company “didn’t draw any lines in the sand” and will let hearings in the Legislature dictate the time line moving forward.

Staff writer Sammy Fretwell contributed to this report. Avery G. Wilks: 803-771-8362, @averygwilks