State senators on Wednesday unanimously signed onto a bill that would require the state's electric utilities put money earmarked for a national nuclear waste repository instead into a state fund until the federal site begins operating. The state would use interest from that to get its own long-term storage plan operating by 2012.
The bill was introduced a day after Gov. Mark Sanford said the state might have to take legal action to keep Yucca Mountain open as an option, claiming political deals were made and 25 years of promises were being broken after South Carolinians had put $1.2 billion into the project.
But poking the Department of Energy in the wallet creates problems. By Thursday the state's utilities weighed in with warnings that they could lose federal nuclear power operating permits. And that's a big deal in a state where about half the power generated comes from nuclear plants and utilities are seeking permits for more reactors.
"We want to make sure that the legislation being proposed here doesn't compromise what we are doing or what we are planning to do to move forward for any reason," SCANA Corp. spokesman Eric Boomhower said.
The Department of Energy didn't immediately respond to questions Thursday.
The power companies' concerns prompted a slowdown from senators who expected to send their bill to the House by this weekend.
"Everybody in here supports keeping Yucca Mountain open for disposal of spent hazardous material," said state Sen. Paul Campbell, R-Goose Creek. "But we want to make sure unintended consequences doesn't impact South Carolina businesses."
The impact could be huge in South Carolina, where legislators have rushed to provide tax breaks and training programs for the nuclear reactors.
Meanwhile, utilities want to keep the option of federal loan guarantees that could keep their construction costs lower.
"We don't want to do anything that would block our access to potential expansion -- whether it be loans or permits or whatever goes with it," Campbell said.
"Haste can make waste here," said Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell, who left the Statehouse on Thursday saying he'd review the bill before lawmakers return Tuesday.
"I think it's atrocious what the federal government is doing. It's in my opinion irresponsible," said McConnell, a Charleston Republican.
Utilities and their customers have "paid this money for permanent storage. Now they're being charged for something they're not going to get," McConnell said.
Utilities expect the federal government to deliver.
"We have a contract with the Department of Energy to manage that waste.
"We still expect the federal government to honor that contract," Boomhower said. "We are still supportive of a central, federal-type repository situation whether it is Yucca Mountain or some other option."