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Santee Cooper asks court to dismiss claim

Staff Report //May 14, 2019//

Santee Cooper asks court to dismiss claim

Staff Report //May 14, 2019//

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Santee Cooper has filed a federal complaint seeking a formal declaration that the state-owned utility is the sole owner of equipment purchased for the abandoned nuclear reactors at the V.C. Summer nuclear power station.

The utility is asking a New York bankruptcy court to dismiss a claim of equipment ownership by Westinghouse, the failed nuclear project contractor. The Westinghouse claim was filed last August as part of Westinghouse’s bankruptcy reorganization, according to the Santee Cooper filing.

“Westinghouse has no legal claim to this equipment,” J. Michael Baxley Sr., Santee Cooper senior vice president and general counsel, said in a news release. “Westinghouse never listed this equipment among assets that bankruptcy code required it to disclose, nor did Westinghouse claim this equipment when it retrieved assets left behind after it walked off the site July 31, 2017.”

Pennsylvania-based Westinghouse Electric Co. declared bankruptcy in March 2017 as costs and delays at the troubled nuclear project in Fairfield County mounted. Santee Cooper owned 45% of the project, while S.C. Electric & Gas, now a subsidiary of Dominion Energy, owned the other 55%. In July 2017, Santee Cooper and SCE&G abandoned the twin reactors, Units 2 and 3.

SCE&G ceded its ownership in the project equipment to Santee Cooper through a forbearance agreement last December approved by the S.C. Public Service Commission. Santee Cooper could make tens of millions of dollars by selling the equipment, which includes steam generators and turbines.

The state-owned utility is $8 billion in debt, with more than half of that related to the V.C. Summer project. Suitors are lining up to buy the embattled utility while S.C. lawmakers debate its future.

Brookfield Business Partners acquired Westinghouse last August for $4.6 billion. It was after that acquisition that the equipment ownership claim was filed, Santee Cooper asserts.

“On March 29, 2017, Westinghouse rejected the very contract it is using to make its fabricated claim, and the company has not contributed a dime to the maintenance or preservation of the equipment since that date,” Baxley said.

Santee Cooper’s filing in the U.S. District Court in Charleston also says that venue is the proper place for the complaint to be heard because the equipment is and has been in Moncks Corner-based Santee Cooper’s possession.

Former SCE&G parent company SCANA Corp., which was acquired by Dominion last December, settled a $2 billion lawsuit related to the failed project last November, though the agreement is subject to court approval.

Columbia attorney Robert Dodson has filed an objection to the settlement, saying that the agreement violates SCE&G customers’ constitutional right to due process. The settlement is also “fundamentally unfair” to ratepayers, Dodson contends, because they are likely to get back less than five cents on the dollar toward the $2 billion paid toward the reactors. In addition, attorneys’ fees sought of more than $63,000 are “outrageously high and patently unreasonable.”

“If SCE&G wants this case settled, it better get reasonable and come to the bargaining table with more money for the ratepayers,” Dodson said in a news release. “ … We will not stand idly by and allow this settlement to be approved in its current form. We will fight this to the bitter end if necessary.”

A fairness hearing to consider final approval of the settlement took place Tuesday at the Moss Justice Center in York with attorneys sparring back and forth in front of Circuit Judge John Hayes.