SCE&G plans rate cut, gas plant purchase after V.C. Summer backlash

Construction at the V.C. Summer Nuclear site. (Source: WIS)
Construction at the V.C. Summer Nuclear site. (Source: WIS)

CAYCE, SC (WCSC/WIS) - SCE&G announced $4.8 billion in new benefits to customers, including cutting electric rates by half over the next three years, to address the aftermath of the failed V.C. Summer Nuclear Project.

If you pay SCE&G for power, your rate could be rolled back, slightly. But some customers say it isn't enough.

SCE&G and state-owned utility Santee Cooper stopped construction July 31 on two nuclear reactors at the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station. They have blamed the failure in large part on the bankruptcy of Westinghouse, the chief contractor.

The utilities had already spent more than $9 billion. Much of that came from ratepayers, who are still being billed for the project.

Keller Kissam, the company's new president, said the first step in addressing the backlash would be a 3.5 percent decrease in energy bills at a cost to the company of $90 million over a year.

Southern Environmental Law Center attorney Blan Holman said regarding the decision, "Customers will be outraged at this. They're already getting soaked for a failed nuclear plant, and now they're going to be on the hook for a giant gas plant they didn't approve and don't need. It's just not right for SCE&G to keep treating its customers like a bottomless cash pit to keep covering SCE&G's poor and self-serving business decisions."

He said the rollback of rates would take rates to where they were in March 2015. That reduction would require regulatory approval.

He also said that for the next 50 years, shareholders of SCANA Corporation will bear the net cost of new construction projects by taking less of an earnings ratio.

"If you put both of those together, the percent of a customer's bill will go down 14.5 percent immediately, but then be reduced or cut in half in three years and will continue to decline," he said.

He also said the company has entered into an option to purchase a 540-megawatt gas-generation facility in Calhoun County. They also plan to add 100 megawatts of solar power.

For some customers, however, it's a fix that comes a little too late. Jeniel Sauer can attest to the increased rates SCE&G has levied on customers year-after-year, to pay for the nuclear reactors that now won't be reality.

"It's definitely hard because I have, it's definitely over $150 each month," Sauer said.

Customers have been paying 18 percent more in rates than they were nine years ago, for a project that's now abandoned.

"So everybody likes to save money, I feel like, but at the end of the day when you make a huge I'm going to call it a mistake like that, customers are going to be upset," Sauer said. "It just doesn't make sense. I think they should do more for the customer."

Leaders of both the House and Senate bashed the plan.

Senate President Pro-Tem Hugh Leatherman called it an insult and said in a statement, "You can't reduce something that shouldn't have been there in the first place."

Kissam began the news conference with an apology for abandoning the project.

"You do what you say you're going to do," he said. "We told our customers that we were going to build two nuclear power plants, and that did not happen. And as a result of that, to our customers who are angry, upset and disappointed, and rightly so, I say I'm sorry. To our elected officials and constitutional officers, who have had to devote their time to this matter, I say I'm equally sorry. And certainly to our employees, 5,400 strong, who I'm blessed to see walk through the threshold of our offices and crew quarters every morning, not because it's simply an occupation but because it's their life and their passion, I certainly am sorry."

Kissam said customers have demanded accountability since the company decided to abandon the project. As a result of that demand, he said, the company's chief executive officer and chief operating officer would be leaving.

But he said apologies and accountability are not enough.

"I listen to our customers," he said. "They're disappointed in us. And it is crushing to me as well as our employees that a century of service that has established those bonds and relationships has vanished so quickly."

He called this proposal a first step to restore the trust he says was lost by the abandonment of the project.

"Our customers deserve this solution," he said. "And this is a forward-looking solution. We can't go back and look back in the past. We've got to look forward."

State, federal and financial entities are investigating the failure. Lawmakers are advancing legislation that would halt charges for ratepayers.

Copyright 2017 WCSC. The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved.