SCANA officials made it official Thursday, telling a state board they will move to completely abandon the failed nuclear expansion in Fairfield County, all but officially ruling out any chance they would restart construction.
Executives told the state Public Service Commission their best chance at clawing back massive financial losses is to try for $2 billion in tax deductions and writeoffs. But that requires they abandon the project completely by the end of December, including a termination of two federal operating licenses for the unfinished reactors at V.C. Summer Generating Station.
“We have to irrevocably intend to discard the assets and not make use of them in the future,” SCANA Vice President & Controller James Swan, IV, said. He said any effort to preserve the construction site or protect its infrastructure for a future restart, even years from now, would make it less likely the IRS approves the tax deductions they would need.
Critics of the V.C. Summer project said the comments show work will likely never start back up again. “They essentially confirmed the nuclear project is totally over with,” Tom Clements of the watchdog group Friends of the Earth said. “Nobody’s going to restart the project. Nobody’s going to buy it. And, essentially, most of the installed components at the site are scrap.”
SCANA has previously sought to use the roughly $2 billion in tax benefits and a $1.3 billion payment from bankrupt contractor Westinghouse to help repay financing debt from the project. SCANA and its partner Santee Cooper decided to end construction on July 31 after years of delays and rising costs which came to a head with Westinghouse’s bankruptcy in May. More than 6,000 employees and construction-related workers lost their jobs.
Santee Cooper’s previous CEO Lonnie Carter had told legislators earlier this year that he believed the site could eventually be feasible for SCANA or another company to try again. Gov. Henry McMaster has reached out to several utilities about the possibility of selling off Santee Cooper to potentially begin work again. But SCANA insists it has tried for months to find potential new partners — without success, as utilities are hesitant about nuclear’s future now that Westinghouse is seeking bankruptcy protection.
Chief Operating Officer Steve Byrne told the commission that continuing to spend “in the ballpark” of $15 million each year on preventable maintenance is not feasible if it stops SCANA from obtaining billions in tax deductions.
“Site preservation is not in the best interest of customers,” he said.
However, the repayment plan presented to the commission in August would also require that regulators continue allowing the company to devote 18 percent of customer power bills towards the project. The Office of Regulatory Staff and several consumer groups insist ratepayers should not be forced to continue paying for work from which they will never benefit.
New commission member Robert Brockman pressed Swan on whether the IRS would allow the deductions. Swan admitted it could be several years before the company knows for certain how much of a tax benefit it will receive. Gov. McMaster appointed Brockman to the commission earlier this week.