The typical Santee Cooper electric ratepayer will pay more than $6,000 to pay off the utility’s share of the failed nuclear project, a bill they’ll pay in monthly $13 installments for the next four decades.
Power users aren’t feeling the full weight of the abandoned reactors yet: The expansion of the V.C. Summer nuclear power plant is only costing the typical home $5 a month right now.
That number will ratchet up over the next several years. Santee Cooper, which is owned by the state, says it will need to raise its electricity rates a few times over the next five years. They’ll more than double the nuclear charges in ratepayers’ bills.
The monthly charge will vary year-to-year based on when the utility’s debt comes due, but it won’t drop from bills until it’s all paid off in 2056. By then, each home will have paid about $6,200.
By comparison, the nuclear project’s co-owner, South Carolina Electric & Gas, is expected to charge its ratepayers a total of nearly $2,800 if it’s sold to Dominion Energy, which would cut interest payments by paying off the debt more quickly. SCE&G's next-best proposal would cost about $6,400, according to a Post and Courier analysis of the plans.
The new figures were disclosed in a letter to The Post and Courier's editorial page by Santee Cooper interim chief executive Jim Brogdon. They offer the most detailed estimates yet of what the project will ultimately cost.
The estimates only cover Santee Cooper’s roughly 100,000 direct retail customers, not the state’s electric cooperatives, which buy most of the utility’s power and resell it to their users.
They also set the backdrop for lawmakers who will start debating the future of Santee Cooper next week. A panel of lawmakers and Gov. Henry McMaster will study the idea of selling the Moncks Corner-based utility starting next week.
McMaster has advocated for a sale since the nuclear project went belly-up last year, but offers from the private sector haven’t materialized yet, even though some potential suitors have emerged. McMaster supports a sale for the same reason some would-be bidders have bowed out: Santee Cooper has borrowed $8 billion, and it racked up half of its debt from the failed V.C. Summer expansion.
"They expect to get paid, and it may be the only way to accomplish that is through a sale," McMaster said Wednesday. "It looks to me that’s the only way to get out of the hole we’re in and continue to provide power without raising rates on customers."
At Santee Cooper’s headquarters, meantime, executives have sought to ease the rate hikes with cost-cutting and plans to sell leftover nuclear reactor parts. But those efforts can only dent the impact of the nuclear project: Santee Cooper owned just under half of the project, which cost $9 billion before it was called off.