South Carolina Electric & Gas came back hard Tuesday after state regulators proposed $1.5 billion in sanctions against them.
The Office of Regulatory Staff proposed the sanctions last week, saying the utility had disregarded an order from the state Public Service Commission (PSC) to release its documents related to the “Bechtel Report” — an audit of the ill-fated V.C. Summer nuclear expansion. SCE&G is withholding 57 documents it identified as privileged under certain legal exceptions.
“SCE&G did exactly what it said it would do,” the utility responded in its own filing. “There is nothing inappropriate, let along sanctionable, about logging documents as privileged.”
The PSC will make the final decisions on any sanctions — if it even sees them necessary — in a future meeting. The commission is already considering whether SCE&G should be able to continue charging ratepayers to pay back debt on the V.C. Summer project.
ORS Director Nanette Edwards admitted the sanctions are unprecedented in state history, but claimed SCE&G had engaged in a “deliberate scheme” to withhold critical documents from the commission.
“I would hope that the commission would want to send the message that, when they issue an order, they expect utilities to comply with it,” she told South Carolina Radio Network.
The documents ORS seeks deal with internal communication and responses to the Bechtel report’s findings that the project was unlikely to be completed within its budget or timeline. SCE&G insists it has already released 2.5 million other documents and those it withheld are protected under attorney-client privilege. The utility’s parent company SCANA maintains it is considering a potential lawsuit against the project’s former lead contractor Westinghouse.
ORS officials say they believe the PSC should at least bar SCE&G from collecting any further costs related to the failed nuclear project after Bechtel provided its initial findings in October 2015. That would eliminate roughly $1.5 billion in potential revenue for the utility.