Politics & Government

Santee Cooper hammers final nail into coffin of unfinished VC Summer nuclear project

Santee Cooper on Monday hammered the final nail into the coffin of the failed, $9 billion V.C. Summer nuclear construction project.

The state-owned utility’s board unanimously voted to cooperate with SCE&G’s efforts to give up the project’s hard-won federal license to build two more nuclear reactors at the massive Fairfield County site. The move makes it a virtual impossibility that the project ever could be finished.

Instead, Santee Cooper will work to sell or scrap the trove of nuclear parts and equipment left unused in July 2017, when the Moncks Corner-based utility and Cayce-based SCE&G indefinitely suspended construction on the overbudget and overdue project.

At the time, Santee Cooper officials publicly held out hope the project could be completed one day, perhaps a decade or more down the road if a different regulatory, political or economic environment made nuclear power production more practical.

SCE&G has been trying to give up the federal operating license for more than a year, part of that utility’s efforts to show it fully has abandoned the project and deserves hundreds of millions of dollars in tax credits.

But, last January, Santee Cooper asked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to hold off on approving SCE&G’s request to terminate the license, saying it wanted time to evaluate its options, including another utility finishing the project.

Santee Cooper searched the world for more than a year but could find no company interested in buying and finishing the Summer project, agency staff told the utility’s board Monday. To keep the license, Santee Cooper would need to spend millions to dollars more to show the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that the utility has the ability to finish and operate the unfinished plant, staff said.

“There are going to be immediate, significant expenditures if we continue the license,” Santee Cooper general counsel Michael Baxley said.

Santee Cooper board chairman Charlie Condon agreed. “These licenses really have no value to us. In fact, they have the exact opposite.”

Because SCE&G and its new owner, Virginia-based Dominion Energy, have relinquished all claims to the Summer site, Santee Cooper will pocket 100 percent of the proceeds from the sale of any equipment that is salvageable, a spokeswoman for the agency said Monday.

Santee Cooper can use the money to help pay off its $4 billion in nuclear construction debt.

The state agency’s customers each are paying about $5 a month toward that debt now, a figure expected to rise to $13 a month for the next four decades.

Meanwhile, Santee Cooper must pay to protect and preserve the parts for a possible sale.

In February, Santee Cooper told the governor it would pay about $19 million a year to preserve the nuclear parts – potentially worth hundreds of millions of dollars – and to continue leasing two massive warehouses full of unused equipment.

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Avery G. Wilks is The State’s senior S.C. State House and politics reporter. He was named the 2018 S.C. Journalist of the Year by the South Carolina Press Association. He grew up in Chester, S.C., and graduated from the University of South Carolina’s top-ranked Honors College in 2015.