Politics & Government

Lawsuit: Santee Cooper blowing chances to sell millions of dollars in VC Summer parts

SCE&G and VC Summer: By the numbers

Timeline of the effort by SCE&G, Santee Cooper and Westinghouse to build two more reactors at VC Summer nuclear station in Fairfield County
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Timeline of the effort by SCE&G, Santee Cooper and Westinghouse to build two more reactors at VC Summer nuclear station in Fairfield County

The lead contractor of South Carolina’s failed, $9 billion nuclear power project has filed a lawsuit accusing Santee Cooper of thwarting efforts to sell “tens of millions of dollars” in equipment and parts left at the construction site.

Proceeds from the equipment sales could help pay down Santee Cooper’s $4 billion nuclear debt, saving the state-owned utility’s ratepayers money.

But Santee Cooper won’t agree to a sale because it doesn’t want to share the profits with Pennsylvania-based Westinghouse Electric Company, the nuclear construction company argued in a lawsuit filed late Friday.

The situation is urgent, Westinghouse argues, because there is a limited market for the nuclear parts and because Georgia-based Southern Company — in the midst of building its own nuclear power plant — has made a multimillion-dollar offer that expires in two weeks.

The companies already have missed out on an $8 million equipment sale to Southern Co. because Santee Cooper wouldn’t cooperate, Westinghouse attorneys wrote in the lawsuit.

“As each day passes, given the limited market of potential buyers, (Westinghouse) loses sale opportunities and the value” of the equipment declines, Westinghouse wrote.

Efforts to reach Santee Cooper for comment late Friday were unsuccessful. Southern Co. declined to comment.

“Another day, another surprise from Santee Cooper executives,” said Brian Symmes, spokesman for Gov. Henry McMaster, who has pushed S.C. lawmakers to sell the state-owned utility since the V.C. Summer project collapsed. “The governor is certain the General Assembly will take this news into consideration as they debate the future of Santee Cooper.”

Santee Cooper and Westinghouse have been in a weeks-long dispute over who owns the equipment left at the abandoned V.C. Summer Nuclear Station construction site in Fairfield County. SCE&G, meanwhile, already gave up its ownership stake to the site in order to claim hundreds of millions of dollars in tax credits.

Santee Cooper executives have said publicly Santee Cooper owns the entire site and all the nuclear parts, construction equipment and materials left there when it and investor-owned SCE&G quit the decade-long V.C. Summer expansion project in July 2017. The company has said it wants to sell the leftover V.C. Summer equipment to help pay off its debt.

That includes major equipment such as steam generators, reactor coolant pumps, turbines, and cooling towers as well as basic materials such as rebar, pipes and cables.

Westinghouse disagrees, saying Santee Cooper had not completely paid Westinghouse for all the equipment on the site. Westinghouse has not disclosed how much of the equipment it claims to own.

Westinghouse and Santee Cooper have a rocky history. Over the course of the V.C. Summer project, Santee Cooper and SCE&G executives regularly complained about Westinghouse’s performance in building the project, including missed deadlines, cost overruns and shoddy engineering designs.

When Westinghouse declared for bankruptcy in March 2017, it all but spelled doom for the V.C. Summer expansion.

In addition to higher electric rates, the project’s failure prompted the departures of Santee Cooper’s former CEO and board chairman and has led the General Assembly to debate selling the 85-year-old utility, which supplies power to 2 million South Carolinians.

In its lawsuit, Westinghouse stated it contacted Santee Cooper about its claim to the site’s equipment in February 2018, then again on March 1, 2019. Westinghouse argues Santee Cooper only last month began taking the position it owns the entire site and all the equipment.

Meanwhile, Santee Cooper won’t give Westinghouse access to the V.C. Summer site or equipment, according to the lawsuit.

In a statement to The State, Westinghouse said its familiarity with the equipment and experience in the nuclear field make it “uniquely positioned to sell these assets.”

The lawsuit is necessary “so as to not lose this opportunity and to maximize the value of the assets,” the company said.

Southern Co.’s latest offer for some of the V.C. Summer equipment is worth “tens of millions of dollars,” Westinghouse wrote in the lawsuit, but the Georgia-based power giant is moving forward with its own nuclear project and wants to know by April 17 if it can purchase the leftover V.C. Summer equipment.

Westinghouse has suggested selling the equipment now and putting the proceeds into a bank account until Westinghouse and Santee Cooper resolve their fight over who gets the money.

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.