S.C. Electric & Gas Co. might not return to its failed effort to complete two nuclear reactors in Fairfield County — even if the governor can find another power company willing to partner on the scuttled project.
The top executive of SCE&G’s parent company said Thursday he wasn’t sure he would want to take the project back up after it fell years behind schedule and its costs soared billions of dollars over budget.
Kevin Marsh, CEO of SCANA Corp., also said several hurdles and months of negotiations stood in the way of restarting construction on either of the unfinished reactors, which were abandoned late last month after nearly a decade of work.
Previously, SCE&G had said it wanted to keep building one reactor, but it was forced to back out of the project when its partner, state-owned utility Santee Cooper, decided to pull the plug. Without a financial partner to share the costs, executives said, the project would have been too expensive.
Now, Marsh says the V.C. Summer expansion might still be too costly to pursue — even with another partner — if it would cost more than the $14 billion budget that state regulators approved last year.
SCE&G and Santee Cooper scuttled the project after months of evaluation on its costs and timeline. Their estimates suggested a price tag of at least $21 billion — almost double the expenses they initially anticipated.
"I've got to be convinced that building the one-plant option — even with a new partner — would be in the best interest of our customers," Marsh said Thursday. "If it's beyond that, I don't know that it makes economic sense."
The comments, made to a panel of state lawmakers in North Charleston, cast doubts on efforts to revive the project. Gov. Henry McMaster said Wednesday that he was looking for a utility to buy Santee Cooper’s share of the V.C. Summer expansion — or even the entire power company — if it meant one reactor would be completed.
McMaster said his office was reaching out to some of the South’s largest power companies — including Dominion Energy in Virginia, Duke Energy in North Carolina and the Southern Co. of Georgia — to see if they were interested in all or part of the state-owned utility.
Separately, Moncks Corner-based Santee Cooper said it had heard from two utilities interested in buying its 45 percent share of the project.
"Everything’s on the table," McMaster said.
But Marsh said it would take at least a year to restart the construction project, even if a new partner emerged today.
The utilities would need to hash out their ownership stakes in the project, Marsh said, and they would need to negotiate contracts with a construction firm and Westinghouse Electric, which designed the reactors that were being built 30 miles north of Columbia.
Westinghouse had been the lead contractor on the project, but it filed for bankruptcy protection this year as the project’s costs mounted.
Plus, Marsh said, SCE&G would have to return to the Public Service Commission, a panel appointed by the Legislature to regulate investor-owned utilities.
"The governor has stated that he's looking for another partner to possibly come into the plant, but if someone says they're interested, that's not something that will happen overnight," Marsh said. "There are a lot of bridges that have to be crossed before we would get there."
Marsh didn’t answer questions from the media after talking with lawmakers at North Charleston City Hall, and he didn’t elaborate on what it would take for SCE&G to revisit the project.
In the meantime, the power company has asked the PSC for permission to charge customers $2.2 billion for the costs of the scuttled project over the next 60 years.
That request has drawn increasing ire from state lawmakers and regulators. House Speaker Jay Lucas and the Office of Regulatory Staff moved Wednesday to halt that plan, and at Thursday's meeting, state Reps. Wendell Gilliard and Leon Stavrinakis, both Charleston Democrats, urged SCE&G to pull its request.
"There's a lot of public trust and public money at stake here, and I think it would be the right thing for you guys to do," Stavrinakis told Marsh. "I fear that if you don't ... you may force the General Assembly to be more rash than we may otherwise would want to be."
Marsh said Thursday that the utility didn't intend to pull its request since it needs to repay the investors who fronted money for the project.