COLUMBIA — Attorneys suing South Carolina Electric & Gas say the power company should have to refund everything it collected for its failed nuclear project over the past year — some $452 million in all.
In a motion filed Wednesday, lawyers representing SCE&G ratepayers say the utility should have dropped its nuclear financing charges from electric rates as soon as it told construction workers at the V.C. Summer power plant to leave the site.
They say state law only allows SCE&G to charge people for the nuclear project while it is under construction or if it's fully built — something the company gave up after it abandoned the $9 billion investment on July 31, 2017.
The nuclear project was dropped after nine years of work on the power plants. SCE&G's customers paid more than $1.8 billion to finance the endeavor. The troubled utility company is now facing a wave of legal challenges due to the unfinished reactors —now considered the biggest economic failure in state history.
The new motion threatens to pile another massive liability onto SCE&G's books.
State lawmakers already forced the power company earlier this month to temporarily slash its nuclear charges, a move that reduced its customers' bills by 15 percent and will cost the company roughly $270 million by the end of this year.
Those customers will also receive a rebate for the power they purchased between April and July.
The attorneys opposing SCE&G want to go even further, however. They're effectively asking a state judge to order SCE&G to repay the entire $37 million per month the utility collected since August of last year. If the judge rules in their favor, part of that money could go to SCE&G electric customers who join the proposed class action lawsuits.
Pete Strom, the court-appointed lead counsel in the consolidated lawsuits, said he will push to hold an expedited hearing on the request for the refunds.
Strom and the other attorneys have some new legal backup to push their argument. In a federal lawsuit last month, U.S. District Judge Michelle Childs issued an order that suggested SCE&G had no right to continue the nuclear financing charges after it stopped construction.
SCE&G has said it disagrees with Childs’ reading of the law. The company appealed her decision to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, where it argued that her conclusions were “plainly wrong.”
According to SCE&G's attorneys, state law says decisions made by South Carolina's utility regulators on major power plant projects are “final and binding." They argue those regulators aren’t allowed to turn back past rate increases.
“SCE&G is thus entitled to the revised rates previously approved by the PSC,” the company wrote in asking the appeals court to take up the case.