Dominion buys out SCANA: How we got here
Up to 19 FBI agents and U.S. Department of Justice officials were in Jenkinsville last week, looking at two unfinished V.C. Summer nuclear reactors as part of an ongoing federal investigation into the failed project.
It is unclear exactly what the FBI agents — 16 to 19 of them, according to a state agency — were doing at the Fairfield County site, which SCE&G and Santee Cooper abandoned last July after nearly a decade of work that cost $9 billion.
But their presence shows the federal probe into the failed project is ongoing.
"Typically, the FBI goes to a construction site to validate ... things they have found in documents or testimony," a source familiar with legal actions surrounding SCANA, SCE&G's parent company, told The State on Tuesday. "They probably had an expert with them."
The U.S. attorney's office in South Carolina did not respond to a request for comment.
The presence of FBI and Justice Department officials at the nuclear site was disclosed by the S.C. Office of Regulatory Staff, the state agency that polices utilities. According to a weekly site update the agency posted to its website Tuesday afternoon, up to 19 FBI agents were expected to inspect the site.
Regulatory Staff confirmed Tuesday the agents visited the site last week, with some federal officials remaining through Monday.
SCE&G on Tuesday said it allowed the federal agents onto the site voluntarily.
"As we have previously stated, SCE&G is cooperating fully with the ongoing investigations," SCE&G spokesman Eric Boomhower said. "We have been in regular contact with the agencies involved and have voluntarily provided them with access to the nuclear construction site. The ORS has asked SCE&G to keep them informed of events on the site, and SCE&G made them aware of the scheduled visit."
A spokeswoman for the state-owned Santee Cooper utility referred questions to SCE&G, saying the Cayce-based power company controls access to the Summer construction site.
Abandoned after years of cost overruns and construction delays, the Summer project has cost SCE&G's 700,000 customers $2 billion in higher power bills that were raised to pay for it. Those customers still are paying, on average, about $27 a month on their power bills for the useless, unfinished reactors.
Santee Cooper's 2 million direct and indirect customers, meanwhile, have paid more than $530 million for the reactors and continue to pay about $5 a month in higher power bills toward the project.
Some state lawmakers were pleased to hear the federal probe could be heating up. Last fall, S.C. lawmakers held almost a dozen public hearings into the project's failure, slamming the utilities' management of the doomed venture.
In particular, legislators were stunned to learn SCE&G and Santee Cooper had commissioned a February 2016 report that diagnosed critical problems with the project, but kept it hidden from state regulators and the public until after the project's collapse.
Now, the Legislature is in the process of passing legislation that would slash SCE&G's highest-in-the-region power bills and strengthen the regulatory structure that enabled the nuclear fiasco.
“The House has been asking for this for quite some time," said state Rep. Peter McCoy, the Charleston Republican who chairs the House's special nuclear committee. "I’ve always thought there are two paths that need to be traveled in this V.C. Summer investigation. One is protecting the ratepayers through rate reductions and intense reform, and two is justice for the ratepayer, which I think comes in the form of a criminal investigation. From what I’ve learned … this is nothing short of criminal activity.”
A federal grand jury has been investigating the project since at least last September, but that probe has avoided much public attention, thus far.
The State Law Enforcement Division also is conducting its own investigation.
In December, sources told The State that federal agents were looking into whether SCANA failed to reveal significant information about the faltering project to its investors, and whether the utility's actions constitute fraud or securities violations.
Under law, publicly traded companies including SCANA are required to disclose matters that could affect their stock prices. SCANA's stock price has tanked since abandoning the Summer project, losing half its value — worth billions — over the last year.
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission also has subpoenaed records from SCANA.