Should SCE&G Refund Ratepayers for Nuclear Project?
The Sierra Club and Friends of the Earth are going for the throat of two nuclear power reactors under construction by South Carolina Electric & Gas (SCE&G) and Santee Cooper. While they’re calling for complete abandonment of the project, the environmentally focused duo also wants the utilities to pay back ratepayers.
On June 22 Tom Clements of Friends of the Earth and Bob Guild of the Sierra Club took to a podium outside the state Public Service Commission to announce they’ll be demanding that the regulatory entity direct SCE&G to “immediately cease expending further capital costs” on the V.C. Summer nuclear reactor project north of Columbia. A formal complaint was filed with the commission after the event in which the organizations asked for a hearing to plead their case. In what Clements says is an unprecedented move, the hearing was granted and scheduled shortly after the filing.
“One of the things we’re going to be asking for is accountability on the part of SCE&G for essentially creating this mess they’ve created for ratepayers,” Guild said before the press event.
In the Public Service Commission’s lobby, a dozen citizens stood behind the environmental representatives with badges declaring “Clean Energy For All.”
“We will be asking for repatriation of the money” to ratepayers, Clements said in an earlier phone call. State law allows the commission to call for “rate reparations,” essentially rebates for electricity users, from SCE&G if the commission finds the utility wasted money in attempting to build the nuclear reactors.
The official complaint comes before a June 26 deadline for an assessment period in which SCE&G is looking into whether they should halt or continue the nuclear energy project.
Started in 2008, the Fairfield County nuclear reactors have been burdened by cost overruns and delays. At only 37 percent completion with already $8.9 billion sunk, according to a presentation given to utility insiders, the total cost of the reactors is projected to be between $15 and $22 billion by the estimates of Friends of the Earth and the Sierra Club.
Then March 2017 rolled around with a bankruptcy announcement by Westinghouse, designer of the reactors and former lead contractor.
The project is “bleeding,” said Guild, and ratepayers foot a hearty chunk of the bill.
When asked if they would refund ratepayers if construction on the nuclear reactors was abandoned, SCE&G offered this statement:
“Once we’ve completed our evaluation process, we plan to go before the Public Service Commission of South Carolina for a full review and assessment of our evaluation before making a final commitment to any course of action. When that will take place is not known at this time.”
Standing beside Guild and Clements, a citizen held a sign that depicted a large “Westinghouse” ship sinking into the ocean while it pulled down a schooner labeled “SCE&G” and a raft titled “Ratepayers.”
The Public Service Commission deserves just as much blame as the utilities, in Clements’ assessment.
“The silence by decisions makers about the project is deafening,” Clements said. “There are no statements about what’s happening, no expert analyses, no news conference, no public forum, and little else public about what is going on behind the scene or what may happen moving forward.”
Clements called this a “vow of silence” by those involved with the V.C. Summer project.
“[Their silence] is an affront to ratepayers and may be a sign that something nefarious may be afoot,” Clements said. “That new ways to put ratepayers on the hook for cost overruns are being devised.”
Their official complaint to the commission will call for “accountability for those who allowed this dreadful situation to develop.”
Guild explained further: “Since this project has gone south radically since last fall’s PSC approval of the last cost overrun and schedule delays, months further delays, [and] untold billions further in cost, any money that SCE&G is spending today … is spent without the authorization of the Public Service Commission.”
In November of 2016 the Public Service Commission approved an August 2020 deadline for SCE&G’s construction at a cost cap of $13.9 billion.