A special House panel learned today that state regulators gave the OK to S.C. Electric & Gas' application to build two reactor units at its Jenkinsville nuclear plant before the federal government had signed off on the final design, adding more costs to the multibillion-dollar project.
During testimony before the House Utility Ratepayer Protection Committee, Columbia attorney Scott Elliott said that the S.C. Public Service Commission approved SCE&G’s license to add two reactors to the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station as Westinghouse Electric Co. was waiting for a final OK on the design from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
The federal agency wanted Westinghouse to retool plans to further harden the reactor containment building if the nuclear plant was targeted by an airborne attack. The revision was required following the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, said Elliott, a former PSC commissioner.
During his testimony, the Columbia attorney provided the 18-member committee representing contingencies served by SCE&G and its project partner, Santee Cooper, with background on the controversial Base Load Review Act.
The law, overwhelmingly passed by the General Assembly in 2007, paved the way for SCE&G to seek approval for the unfinished project, which was abandoned July 31 after more than $9 billion had been spent. The law also was used by SCE&G to win nine rate increases that added about 18% to customers’ bills.
Elliott, who represents the S.C. Electric Users Committee comprising large commercial and industrial electric customers, also told lawmakers that the PSC approved the project based on a “generic” construction schedule that called for completion of the first of the two units in 2016.
That revelation prompted Rep. Kirkman Finlay, R-Columbia, to ask how regulators could have approved SCE&G start a project with “a roadmap” that was not firm. “Help me understand how we couldn’t have planned it less thoroughly?” Finlay said.
Elliott also noted that SCE&G missed its own deadlines for acquiring new easements for building transmission lines from the nuclear plant, adding more costs to the project.
“Nobody put a gun to their head to build these plants,” Elliott said. “Nobody required that they be that quick.”
The House panel, chaired by Rep. Peter McCoy, R-Charleston, has been charged by Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, to dig into the circumstances that led to the ill-fated project that has cost the jobs of 5,400 South Carolinians and threatens the economies of communities in Fairfield, Richland, Lexington, and Newberry counties where many of the workers lived.
A skeleton crew remains working at the site as the project is wound down.
SCE&G, principal subsidiary of Cayce-based SCANA, abandoned the project after Santee Cooper opted to suspend participation.
About $9 billion has been spent by both SCE&G and Santee Cooper on the construction of two 1,117-megawatt reactor units. Estimates indicated that the project would have cost the utilities about $20 billion to complete, nearly double the original budget.
The project collapsed after Westinghouse filed in late April for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
SCE&G and Santee Cooper operate one reactor unit at the Jenkinsville plant, which went into commercial operation in 1984.