Politics & Government

Case for SCANA repaying customers for bungled nuke project to be aired

The now-abandoned SCANA failed nuclear project
The now-abandoned SCANA failed nuclear project File photo

A special judge has designated the first week of January to hear arguments on whether SCANA should start setting aside $37 million a month to eventually pay back its ratepayers for a bungled nuclear project.

It will be the first public airing of facts surrounding SCANA’s abandoned V.C. Summer nuclear project in Fairfield County.

A dozen or so lawsuits have been filed against the embattled utility in state and federal courts. A federal grand jury, working in secret, also is investigating possible criminal charges in the $9 billion-plus fiasco.

Circuit Court Judge John Hayes III originally had scheduled Wednesday – just one day – for the hearing.

But the “magnitude” of the sums of money involved and the “anticipated enormity of facts” convinced the judge that the week of Jan. 2 will be necessary, Hayes wrote in an order. That week is a four-day work week, since Jan. 1 is the New Year’s Day holiday.

Hayes said he wanted “a full record” of the arguments for and against setting aside millions of dollars a month from ratepayers. The hearing likely will include testimony under oath, cross examination and “properly authenticated exhibits,” he wrote.

Motions asking Hayes to set aside ratepayers’ money and give it to a custodian, called a “receiver,” were made by Columbia attorney Pete Strom and joined by S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson.

Their motions relate to the part of ratepayers’ bills that have been designated since 2007 to pay for construction of two reactors at the V.C. Summer site.

“These moneys – approximately $37 million per month collected by SCE&G (SCANA) alone toward construction – will continued to be collected each month via the customers’ bills, even though the project has been abandoned,” Strom argued in his brief on behalf of client LeBrian Cleckley, a SCANA ratepayer. Co-counsels with Strom are Columbia attorneys Cam Lewis and Daniel Haltiwanger.

Wilson’s “clients” in the action are ratepayers in general. His motion argues the attorney general “has a duty to protect the public interest and well being of a utility’s ratepayers.”

Wilson’s office has taken the position that a 2007 state law, the Base Load Review Act, that allowed SCANA to collect money monthly to pay for the nuclear reactors while under construction is unconstitutional.

Strom wants the receiver to take custody of that money until various legal claims are resolved.

An SCE&G residential customers who uses 1,000 kilowatt hours of power currently pays an average electricity bill of $147.53 a month. Of that amount, $27.03 — or 18.3 percent — is for the now-abandoned nuclear reactors, according to state regulators.