The nation's largest electric utility has doubled down on its position about investing in the failed expansion of the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station: It's not.
Financial analyst Shar Pourreza of Guggenheim Securities raised the question during a conference call with executives of Charlotte-based Duke Energy on Friday. He said he knew what the answer would be, but he decided to put Duke CEO Lynn Good "on the spot anyway because I know it's been on investors' minds."
"Is there any interest in a South Carolina nuclear plant or even expanding your footprint in the state, especially since you're already very active there from an economic development standpoint? If you could just address this dead on, it'd be good," he said.
Good was adamant.
"You know, Shar, we have no interest in the new nuclear plant in South Carolina and we've been clear about that," she responded. "Given the risks and the uncertainties around completion of that plant, we don't think there's a fit either for customers or investors, and we've been very candid with the state about that."
South Carolina utilities SCANA Corp. and Santee Cooper halted work on two partially completed reactors at V.C. Summer in late July, blaming soaring costs and years of delays. They had already spent $9 billion on the Midlands plant's expansion.
Duke is South Carolina’s largest power provider, with a network running from the Pee Dee to the Upstate. And it was one of the three major utilities Gov. Henry McMaster contacted in August about their interest in buying a stake in the failed project.
The company bowed out of the talks Aug. 25, saying it had "looked at this from every angle, and we concluded that it is not feasible for us to take on."
That same day, Duke requested permission from regulators to abandon plans to build the proposed Lee Nuclear Station near Gaffney. Unlike V.C. Summer, construction had not started yet on the Cherokee County site, though Duke estimated it had spent about $542 million on land purchases and design plans.
Good called South Carolina "incredibly important" to the North Carolina utility giant, which has about 740,000 electric customers across the upper part of the Palmetto State. The company announced plans last week to invest $3 billion over the next decade to harden its South Carolina power grid.
"We're engaged and supporting our businesses in a way you would expect, but no interest in pursuing new nuclear," she said.
None of the financial analysts on the conference call asked Good about whether Duke plans to invest in Moncks Corner-based Santee Cooper. McMaster is seeking a buyer for some or all of the state-owned power provider, which sells electricity to South Carolina's 20 electric cooperatives.
Duke, Dominion Energy, Southern Co. and NextEra Energy are said to be the prospective bidders. Like Duke's CEO, Dominion and NextEra executives weren't asked about their interest in Santee Cooper when they spoke with analysts last month.
But Southern Co.'s management team was. Tom Fanning, chief executive of the Atlanta-based energy giant, demurred. After the state's nuclear failure, buying a power company in South Carolina would be "a bit of a long putt," he said.