SCE&G shows hand in Westinghouse bankruptcy standoff

As executives from SCE&G gathered before the South Carolina Public Service Commission to deliver information about the unsettled fallout from the Westinghouse bankruptcy, a woman clad in sheriff garb said she came to bring justice to ratepayers.

 

Westinghouse is the Toshiba Corp.’s U.S. based subsidiary building four new AP1000 nuclear power plants in Georgia and South Carolina. Two units lie near Waynesboro at Plant Vogtle and the other two at VC Summer near Jenkinsville, S.C. The two nuclear plants are the first in the U.S. since 1979.

The woman was Leslie Minerd, founder and honorary president of South Carolinians Against Monetary Abuse. “They need to stop spending money until they figure out the best way forward,” she said.

The briefing was called for by SCANA, the parent company of SCE&G and brought together legal counsel and representatives from groups like SCAMA, Sierra Club, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and SRS Watch.

SCE&G executive Jimmy Addison talked about Westinghouse’s plans.

“Westinghouse intends to use bankruptcy to fence off the contractual liability for the two AP1000 construction projects from its other businesses,” he said. “Westinghouse has disclosed that it has secured an $800 million line of credit to support ongoing operations after the bankruptcy filing.”

In the briefing, the utility provider said it plans to hold Westinghouse accountable for all debts related to construction. The organization also said that construction at VC Summer is ongoing, as it is at Plant Vogtle. In the Palmetto State, a 30-day interim agreement is in place to maintain progress at the site. But, SCE&G called that time frame “short,” and said the period may be extended to 60 or 90 days to allow for full evaluation of bankruptcy impacts.

Georgia Power, primary owner of the Vogtle expansion project, said it is also evaluating costs to determine the best path forward.

Addison said that all of the figures and deadlines, including the site’s operational deadline of January 1, 2021, were fluid because they were based on information provided by Westinghouse.

SCE&G said a number of domestic organizations had expressed interest in purchasing the struggling company. A few companies in what it called a “small community,” such as Fluor, Bechtel, or AREVA hold the needed experience to continue the nuclear projects, according to SCE&G. Fluor has been the construction management subcontractor at VC Summer since 2015.

Addison told the PSC that the energy company would pursue all avenues to recover debt, including seeking payments from Toshiba Corp. if Westinghouse could not fulfill its obligations.

“We are indifferent to the source but we want to ensure SCE&G, Santee Cooper and our customers are protected as much as possible,” Addison said.

Santee Cooper is the South Carolina state-owned utility provider and holds a 45 percent stake in VC Summer.

“Who do we hold accountable?” said Bob Guild, environmental lawyer with Sierra Club. “There is no easy way out of this. It is high time the Public Service Commission starts holding SCE&G accountable.”

Ratepayers in South Carolina are paying for much of the construction financing costs up front, thanks to the Load Review Act passed 10 years ago. The legislation was passed specifically for the VC Summer expansion and Georgia followed suit in 2009 with its Nuclear Energy Financing Act.

According to recent reporting by the Savannah Morning News, residents have paid as much as $500 each to finance the project, spread out over those years. SCE&G has a much smaller customer base, though, and rates have been collecting for two additional years. According to several organizations at the briefing, the average SCE&G customer pays about $27 per month. Totals depend on how long customers stay with the company, but even those who live temporarily in the state, including construction workers at VC Summer, pay into the project.

“The whole ballgame has changed,” SRS Watch Director Tom Clements said. “I strongly believe that continued funding given the mass confusion is not the prudent thing to do.”

After the briefing, Minerd said, “They didn’t mention at all how it would affect ratepayers; they didn’t even say the word ratepayer. There is no consideration for how costs will be passed on, and that includes business and cities. I want to see them take less expensive options and work to implement truly clean and renewable energy sources.”

SCE&G said construction at VC Summer is only about 34 percent complete. The company said there are four options for the project’s future; complete construction as planned, complete construction while focusing on one reactor over the other, abandoning one to complete the other, or abandoning the expansion in its entirety.

Reach Thomas Gardiner at (706) 823-3339 or thomas.gardiner@augustachronicle.com

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