The South Carolina Office of Regulatory Staff is asking state regulators to require SCE&G release documents related to the failed V.C. Summer nuclear expansion, particularly a 2016 audit done by Bechtel.
The ORS filed the motion with the Public Service Commission as it seeks to gather information ahead of its case before the commission regarding rate relief for SCE&G customers in the project’s aftermath. Last month the ORS requested all documents from SCE&G related to the abandonment of the project, including the Bechtel report, but SCE&G has refused, saying it includes sensitive legal information protected by client privilege.
“The Bechtel report and any related documents, at this point, should be public,” Acting ORS Executive Director Nanette Edwards said. “They should be out there available for review by the public. They’re directly related to the new nuclear issues and we feel strongly that in light of the way this has all unfolded, the public should have a right to know and be able to look at these documents.”
ORS said it needs the documents before it can recommend how much customers’ bills should be reduced. SCE&G’s holding company — and its prospective buyer Dominion Energy — are seeking to keep some of the higher construction-related rates intact as they need to repay debt from the $9 billion project. The Public Service Commission would have the final say in rate decreases.
Edwards said the information “will inform us as part of our review of the abandonment costs.”
“What did the company know? When did they know it? Because under the abandonment statute, if the company failed to avoid or failed to anticipate or minimize the abandonment costs, that works against them,” Edwards explained. “We’re looking for all information that would, in our words, constitute imprudently-incurred abandonment costs.”
In July 2017, SCE&G and Santee Cooper announced it would no longer build to reactors the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station, after charging ratepayers billions of dollars in construction costs.
“We’ve asked for these documents several times, many times, for SCE&G to turn over everything that they have regarding the Bechtel report, whether they be handwritten notes from meetings or emails,” ORS spokesman Ron Aiken said. “We’re looking at what they’ve already produced to the Department of Justice. We want that same information.”
Gov. Henry McMaster previously ordered the project’s partner state-owned Santee Cooper to turn over its version of the Bechtel report and the utility eventually complied. Aiken said the ORS got some information from the release.
“We want that same information from SCE&G’s end,” he said. “We don’t think we’ve gotten the full story of the documents from what we’ve received so far from SCE&G… There’s a definite gap that exists between the information that Santee Cooper has presented and what SCANA has presented in terms of their communications about the same event.”
In October of 2015, executives from SCE&G and Santee Cooper discussed the Bechtel audit at a meeting.
“We have a lot of notes from Santee Cooper officials who were at that meeting: pages and pages and pages of notes from individuals,” Aiken said. “When it comes to SCANA, we got one half page of notes that looks like it was probably done during the first 10 minutes of the presentation. . . It’s difficult to believe that there was only one half page of notes taken for a $1 million study that took eight weeks to put together.”
The ORS began requesting documents from SCE&G in February. The Public Service Commission has not yet set a procedural schedule or a hearing date on the ORS request for rate relief. The commission is waiting for guidance from legislators, who are still debating a compromise on temporary rates during a special summer session.
SCE&G provided this response to the South Carolina Radio Network:
SCE&G filed a document June 11 with the Public Service Commission of South Carolina (PSC) that directly addresses the misleading, incomplete, and inflammatory narrative surrounding Bechtel’s involvement with the nuclear construction project.
In its response to the South Carolina Office of Regulatory Staff’s motion to compel production of documents, SCE&G decided that although SCE&G has the legal right to maintain the confidentiality of Bechtel-related materials, it is important to set the record straight regarding Bechtel. The document that SCE&G filed June 11 makes the following key points:
- SCE&G’s and Santee Cooper’s legal counsel engaged Bechtel to provide an assessment of the nuclear construction project that would assist with possible future litigation against the Westinghouse and Chicago Bridge and Iron Consortium.
- The Bechtel assessment’s limited scope, depth and duration meant it was unusable for meaningful insights into the construction schedule or the anticipated completion dates for the new nuclear units.
- Before the Bechtel Report was completed, SCE&G and Santee Cooper concluded negotiations with the Consortium to amend the existing Engineering, Procurement and Construction (EPC) Agreement, including resolving many of the issues that Bechtel was reviewing.
- Santee Cooper and Bechtel were not transparent with SCE&G and its attorney, and in fact worked together behind the scene to expand and extend Bechtel’s role on the project.
- The limited key Bechtel findings revealed nothing to SCE&G and Santee Cooper that they did not already know and were consistent with information SCE&G and Santee Cooper previously disclosed in public filings with the PSC.
Although the company knows that the issues surrounding the nuclear project will continue to be reviewed and debated in upcoming regulatory and court proceedings, hopefully the June 11 filing will set the record straight regarding why Bechtel was hired and the limited value of its report.