South Carolina’s lead agency for regulation of power companies has agreed to hold a hearing on nuclear reactors under construction in the Midlands which face an uncertain future.
The state Public Service Commission (PSC) scheduled the Aug. 14 meeting a day after Friends of the Earth and the South Carolina chapter of the Sierra Club called for the hearing on two rectors under construction at the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station in Fairfield County. The project’s lead contractor Westinghouse filed for bankruptcy earlier this year, leaving power utilities South Carolina Electric & Gas and Santee Cooper scrambling to find funding for the project’s completion.
“We thought it was time to request an emergency hearing before the Public Service Commission to get to the bottom of what’s happened to try and determine why it happened,” said Friends of the Earth Southeastern Nuclear Campaign Coordinator Tom Clements. “And to try and reclaim some money for ratepayers.”
Westinghouse declared bankruptcy largely because of previous agreements on V.C. Summer and a second Georgia nuclear plant required that it be responsible for any cost overruns. The requirement came after the PSC pressured the utility for ever-increasing customer costs as the project’s budget grew by billions to $14 billion.
Clements said roughly $8.9 million has already been spent on the project, but it is only about 37 percent complete. He said the final budget will likely be billions more, despite the fact SCE&G customers are already devoting around 18 percent of their monthly bills to construction. The PSC must approve any additional rate increases.
The current operating agreement between SCE&G and Westinghouse will expire on Monday. After that date, the utilities will be responsible for further expenses. They are not required to make any plan public at this point.
In a statement issued Thursday, an SCE&G spokeswoman insisted the PSC has already held six proceedings with the utilities on the prudency of construction. She said both environmental groups participated in those hearings and any further public explanation would be premature until the company and Santee Cooper determine a path forward.
But Clements insisted the public should know the full cost estimates for further construction of both reactors, or the cost to abandon one and continue work on the other.
“All this analysis and decisions are being made behind closed doors,” he told South Carolina Radio Network. “But because Santee Cooper is a public (state-owned) entity, we really feel it has an obligation to talk about this openly, to hold presentations and meetings to discuss what’s going on.”