State regulators accused South Carolina Electric & Gas of allowing infrastructure at its now-defunct V.C. Summer nuclear expansion site to rot away without protection, meaning it’s much less likely the site could be restarted again in the future by another company.
Office of Regulatory Staff officials told a state Senate panel Wednesday that critical sections of the unfinished Fairfield County plant are exposed to the elements. “One of the things that’s concerning to us is, in order to keep the value of that component for possible preservation, you’ve got to do things with that piece of equipment,” Deputy ORS Executive Director Nannette Edwards said. “And there is a question in our mind of how much of that is actually going on.”
SCE&G and its state-owned partner Santee Cooper ended construction in July after massive delays and cost overruns on the project were worsened by the bankruptcy of its lead contractor Westinghouse. The two utilities spent more than $9 billion on the project before its failure.
Any restart of the project would still be a long shot, but ORS Director of Energy Policy Anthony James told senators it becomes even more unlikely if SCE&G does not work to preserve the site. He said an ORS team visited the site last week and saw the reactor vessel structure — which would have housed the reactor had the project finished — completely open.
“We asked if they were going to cover that,” he said. “Their answer was that they have no intent… If you don’t cover that and expose it to the elements, you’re going to find yourself in a position where you can’t recover the site.”
SCE&G initially moved to abandon the reactor construction this summer, but withdrew its request so legislators could investigate and consider alternative plans. The utility stands to gain roughly $2 billion in tax write-offs if it gets approval from the state Public Service Commission to abandon further work.
However, outgoing Santee Cooper CEO Lonnie Carter has said lawmakers and should still be open to the possibility of the project restarting years down the road after other power companies work out design issues with the Westinghouse reactors in Georgia or China. Gov. Henry McMaster has attempted to sell off Santee Cooper in a last-ditch effort to restart the project, although prospective buyers are hesitant to take on the state-owned utility’s debt and nuclear’s uncertain future.
Some senators on the panel were frustrated, admitting a restart is unlikely but also unhappy SCE&G could be guaranteeing it does not happen. State Sen. Mike Fanning, D-Fairfield, said he is also concerned SCE&G could be making money off the equipment after its ratepaying customers sank $1.3 billion into the site.
“There are plenty of other ways that they could recoup the money,” he said. “And the parts that they would sell off and get money from are parts that were paid for by consumers. So they’d get the money twice.”
SCE&G’s parent company SCANA has not commented on the testimony.