15 months after utilities abandoned work on a nuclear expansion project in Fairfield County, South Carolina’s Public Service Commission (PSC) began its first public hearings which could decide the very future of at least one of those utilities.
The commission will have the final say on how much — if anything — South Carolina Electric and Gas (SCE&G) can charge its customers for the ill-fated VC Summer expansion. Commissioners will also need to vote on SCE&G’s purchase by Virginia-based utility Dominion Energy.
In opening statements, SCE&G’s attorney David Balser offered an apology. “SCE&G is very sorry for the impact that its decision to abandon construction of Units Two and Three is having upon our customers, the commission and the state.”
But Balser put the failure’s blame on the project’s lead contractor. “If Westinghouse had not filed for bankruptcy, we would not be here today. And it is not SCE&G’s fault that Westinghouse filed for bankruptcy.
Balser then took the offensive saying that the state’s utility regulator, the South Carolina Office of Regulatory Staff is fabricating a story that SCE&G misled regulators to keep the project alive.
Office of Regulatory Staff attorney Matthew Richardson disputed that account, arguing SCE&G intentionally kept secret a 2016 audit which revealed the project’s timeline was unrealistic and unlikely to finish. He maintained the utility hid the depth of its construction troubles to ensure the PSC would approve its rate hike requests.
““SCE&G just didn’t come clean about the true schedule and cost,” he said.
SCE&G decided to abandon construction after its minor partner state-owned Santee Cooper pulled out in July 2017. Santee Cooper concluded Westinghouse would not finish work before a critical 2021 deadline and the final cost was still uncertain.
Legislators this summer restricted the amount that SCE&G could charge customers for continuing construction debt, limiting the utility to its 2010 nuclear-related rates. The temporary rate, which was upheld by a federal appeals court in September, will stay in place until the PSC makes a final determination.