How SC’s nuclear project collapsed: A timeline
SCANA’s former chief executive was paid $1.8 million as a consultant on the utility’s failed nuclear construction project. But the Cayce-based utility can’t produce any records showing what he did for that money, a state regulator says.
William Timmerman retired as SCANA’s CEO in November 2011 and began earning his $360,000-a-year consulting fee the next day. The five-year consulting contract ran from December 2011 to December 2016.
Customers of SCANA’s electric subsidiary, SCE&G, and state-owned Santee Cooper — the V.C. Summer project’s minority partner — are on the hook to pay most of the $1.8 million, thanks to their cost-sharing contract.
So are customers of South Carolina’s 20 electric co-ops, who buy Santee Cooper’s electricity and pay 70 percent of its costs.
The co-ops had no idea they would be paying Timmerman’s consulting fee, according to Mike Couick, president of the co-ops’ trade group. “But we also were not aware that Santee Cooper was paying the (nuclear-related) bonuses for SCANA executives,” he said.
SCE&G and Santee Cooper abandoned the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station expansion project in July 2017 after years of construction delays, cost overruns and $9 billion in spending. Since then, the utilities, their customers, S.C. lawmakers and state regulators have been embroiled in a fight over who must pay off the nuclear project’s debt.
The S.C. Office of Regulatory Staff mentions Timmerman’s contract in its prefiled testimony to the S.C. Public Service Commission, which next month will begin the process of deciding who — SCE&G’s ratepayers, shareholders or both — should have to pay off SCE&G’s nearly $5 billion in nuclear debt.
Regulatory Staff, a state utility watchdog, is asking the PSC to bar SCE&G from charging its customers for the $990,000 it paid Timmerman.
Kelvin Major, an audit manager with Regulatory Staff, testified the state’s utility watchdog had asked SCE&G for “supporting documentation detailing the actual work performed by the consultant.”
“The company was unable to provide any of the requested documentation,” Major testified.
In an email, a spokesman for SCE&G said the utility’s agreement with Timmerman was disclosed in a May 2011 Security and Exchanges Commission filing.
The utility will respond to Regulatory Staff further with testimony it will file later this month, SCE&G spokesman Eric Boomhower said. “Out of respect for the regulatory process, we will not be responding to the particulars of the testimony submitted by other parties except through our rebuttal testimony.”
Santee Cooper did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“There may be no documents reflecting Mr. Timmerman’s work product, but there’s certainly evidence of his work product, which is a $9 billion hole on the ground,” said Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey, the Edgefield Republican who co-chaired the state Senate committee that investigated the nuclear project’s failure. “They paid him $1.8 million to consult on something, and it failed.”
State Rep. Russell Ott, D-Calhoun, said he could understand why SCE&G would want to keep Timmerman’s institutional knowledge on board after his retirement.
“The problem is that, just in light of everything that has taken place over the past year and a half, it’s just another example of shadiness,” Ott said. “If everything is ... completely transparent, then certainly a company like SCANA would have had the documentation to show what he was doing.”
Timmerman’s fees were among a number of nuclear-related expenses — including jet trips, alcohol and gift cards — that Regulatory Staff auditors had flagged as illegitimate. Last November, The State reported Regulatory Staff was successful in blocking SCE&G from charging its customers for Timmerman’s $198,000 consulting fee in 2016.
SCE&G said then that, “after discussion with the ORS, we agreed not to seek recovery of that amount.”
However, Regulatory Staff’s request will not help customers of Santee Cooper, a state-owned utility that sets its own electric rates and has paid Timmerman $810,000. The Moncks Corner-based utility is not regulated by the PSC.
Efforts to reach Timmerman on Monday were unsuccessful.
He now is a board member for Pacolet Milliken, the Greenville-based company that is mulling a bid to buy Santee Cooper.