How SC’s nuclear project collapsed: A timeline
A top SCANA accountant ranted in an early-2016 voicemail that her utility's executives were mismanaging their multibillion-dollar nuclear construction project and "breaking every friggin' law that you can break."
SCANA's executives were propping up the failing V.C. Summer construction project so they could meet profit goals and collect millions of dollars in bonuses, Carlette Walker, then SCANA's vice president of Nuclear Finance Administration, said in a voice message to Santee Cooper nuclear manager Marion Cherry.
In a five-minute-long voicemail, Walker urged Cherry to encourage Santee Cooper, the project's minority owner, to stop paying SCANA any more for the project's escalating construction costs.
“Whatever they’re telling y’all is just bulls--t," Walker fumed. "But anyway, I just wanted to let you know that I know the truth now, and I don’t want you and Santee to get screwed any more by the executives of SCE&G and SCANA."
The voicemail, provided to The State on Thursday by Santee Cooper, further illustrates internal strife over the nuclear project's direction and progress long before SCANA and Santee Cooper abandoned the decadelong, $9 billion construction effort last July.
A federal grand jury in Columbia currently is investigating possible criminal wrongdoing by SCANA and its executives leading up to the project's collapse, multiple sources have told The State. Walker could be a crucial witness in any possible action brought by federal authorities, sources said.
She also could become a witness in civil lawsuits brought by S.C. power customers and others against SCANA. Santee Cooper, which owns 45 percent of the failed V.C. Summer project, also is considering suing SCANA.
Walker retired from SCANA in May 2016, a spokesman confirmed.
Efforts to reach Walker, beginning last fall, have been unsuccessful.
Walker's attorney, Jake Moore of Lexington County, declined detailed comment to The State on Thursday evening. He did say Walker is "one of the finest people I've ever known."
Moore said Walker "is more than willing to participate in any court proceeding. She is not trying to hide from anybody."
However, Moore said he does not think Walker knows anything more than what already is known publicly about the project's shortcomings.
Sources said part of Walker's job was to provide sworn statements to state regulators justifying the rate hikes that SCANA's electric subsidiary, SCE&G, requested to bankroll the nuclear project.
The utility, ultimately, won nine rate hikes. It has charged its customers $2 billion, this far, for the useless reactors. About $27 of the average SCE&G customer's monthly bill now pays for the nuclear project.
Over time, sources said, Walker became increasingly upset about discrepancies between her view of the V.C. Summer project's progress and finances and what SCANA executives wanted her to report to state regulators in sworn statements.
Sources said Walker eventually hired a lawyer who negotiated her departure from SCANA, including a nondisclosure agreement that prevents her from discussing the nuclear project unless ordered to do so by a court, sources said.
Walker's voicemail was sent in January or February 2016, Santee Cooper spokeswoman Mollie Gore said.
That was about when SCANA and Santee Cooper received the February 2016 Bechtel Corp. report. That study, which diagnosed critical problems at the nuclear site, was kept secret by the two utilities until months after the project's collapse.
Walker's concerns were not shared with Santee Cooper's board, Gore said Thursday. But Gore said the information was considered as Santee Cooper staff developed recommendations for how to turn the project around.
“It was one piece of information among many pieces of information regarding management of the project that was being considered during this time frame," Gore said. "While the voicemail wasn’t provided to the board, they did receive numerous updates on the status of the project management.”
Before retiring in May 2016, Walker raised questions about the project — mostly related to "personnel issues," SCANA spokesman Eric Boomhower said in an emailed statement to The State.
However, Walker also "expressed concern about whether SCE&G had adequately disclosed in 2015" that the project could miss its expected completion date unless there was a significant improvement in construction productivity, Boomhower wrote.
Boomhower noted that, in 2015, Walker filed sworn testimony with the S.C. Public Service Commission in support of the project.
Walker's voicemail — first reported by the Post and Courier — was short on details of how the project was being mismanaged. But she mentioned by name former SCANA Chief Executive Kevin Marsh, former Chief Operating Officer Stephen Byrne and current Chief Executive Jimmy Addison, calling them liars.
"They're all of the same cloth," Walker said. "They all think they're the smartest guys in the room, but they're on the friggin' take."
SCANA's top executives earned $3 million in performance-related bonuses tied to their work on the nuclear project.
Walker told Santee Cooper's Cherry that the state-owned utility should push back against SCANA's requests for more money to keep the nuclear project going.
"Don't sign anything. Refuse to pay," she said. "Push back and say, ‘No, we’re not going to do it,’ because they are mismanaging the project, and it’s at y’all’s expense. They’re doing it because they want to make money and they’re propping up earnings to be able to make their bonuses, and it’s at your expense.”