A $4.8 billion plan released Thursday from South Carolina Electric & Gas Company would put money back in the wallets of the state’s ratepayers and use solar power and natural gas to make up for the cancellation of the V.C. Summer nuclear plant.
Nuclear watchers have held up the South Carolina plant as an example of the last gasping breath of large-scale nuclear in the U.S. While the overdue, costly Vogtle project in Georgia continues to move forward, SCANA subsidiary SCE&G hopes to lessen the blow of its own controversial failure.
“We’ve heard our customers’ frustrations about paying for a power plant and having nothing to show for it,” said Keller Kissam, SCE&G’s president of retail operations and incoming COO. “This proposal gives customers additional power generation while also lowering rates.”
South Carolina customers had been paying upfront for the two reactors to be built at the V.C. Summer Station, at prices that reflected 18 percent of an average monthly SCE&G bill and 8 percent of a bill from project partner Santee Cooper. The proposal rolls those rate increases back to March 2015 levels -- a 3.5 percent decrease totaling $450 million over the next five years. The rate reduction will give customers $90 million in immediate relief, but is much lower than a proposal from state lawmakers put forward last week that would do away with the 18 percent charge all together and yield $37 million per year.
Much of the angst surrounding the V.C. cancellation centers on who will pay for a project that will no longer bring any return on investment. Three customers have already filed a class-action racketeering lawsuit against the company, alleging it overcharged for “nuclear reactors (it) did not need and could not construct for the price or time as set forth.” In its announcement, SCE&G said SCANA shareholders would eat $2.9 billion of the approximately $9 billion in construction costs through lower earnings over the next 50 years.
To make up for the 2,234 megawatts of power that would have come from the V.C. Summer expansion, SCE&G will spend $680 million on a 540-megawatt natural gas plant and 100 megawatts of utility-scale solar, about a 50 percent increase in the utility’s non-residential solar capacity.
The proposal from SCE&G will likely make any future nuclear developments even less enticing to developers. The Summer plant had already been mired in debate for years.
Originally planned for completion by 2018 with a price below $12 billion, the project was less than half finished when it was shelved. The utilities projected it would cost as much as $25 billion to complete the reactors. Aside from the $9 billion price tag that developers are now grappling with, the project left 5,000 construction workers without jobs and prompted criminal and FBI investigations.
Many suggest the fate of the project in South Carolina foreshadows the future of the Vogtle nuclear plant in Georgia, which has also faced budgetary and scheduling struggles. Both projects included the AP1000 reactor design, built by the now-bankrupt Westinghouse Electric.
Last week in Georgia, the Public Service Commission held hearings where developers recommended continuing the project and defended delays. Georgia Power on Wednesday also placed a 52-ton CA02 module, a “critical component” of the system’s In-Containment Refueling Water Storage Tank that helps with cooling. Hearings over Vogtle's fate will continue in December.
“That’s going to be important to watch,” said Kurt Ebersbach, a senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center, an intervener in the case. “The project remains extremely risky. […] A lot could happen over the next month.”