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Santee Cooper and co-op ratepayers will get nuclear settlement checks soon

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V.C. Summer Dom Energy (copy) (copy)

Electric customers with Santee Cooper and South Carolina's 20 electric cooperatives will start to receive refund checks as earlier as this week as part of a legal settlement tied to the failed expansion of the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station (above) in Fairfield County. File

Hundreds of thousands of power customers with Santee Cooper and South Carolina's 20 electric cooperatives will start receiving refund checks starting this week as part of a multimillion dollar legal settlement tied to the failed V.C. Summer nuclear project.

The checks are the result of a class-action lawsuit that was filed after Santee Cooper, South Carolina's state-run utility, chose to end construction on two unfinished reactors in Fairfield County in July 2017.

That project was undertaken in conjunction with SCANA Corp., the former owner of S.C. Electric & Gas, and ended after SCE&G and Santee Cooper spent more than $9 billion on the reactors. 

Ratepayers with SCE&G, now part of Dominion Energy, already received partial refunds for the money they contributed to the failed project. 

This new round of refunds is for the customers who helped finance Santee Cooper's 45 percent ownership stake in the abandoned reactors.

That includes power customers who receive monthly bills directly from Santee Cooper and the members of South Carolina's electric cooperatives, which buy roughly 70 percent of the power Santee Cooper generates. 

The law firms that sued Santee Cooper on behalf of the electric customers settled the class-action lawsuit in February. 

As part of the deal, Santee Cooper agreed to pay $200 million, and Dominion, which took over SCE&G in 2019, agreed to pay another $320 million to settle its potential liability as the majority owner of the project. 

The attorneys representing the co-op members and Santee Cooper customers announced on Friday that the first round of settlement payments will start to be distributed.

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That money — which will come to about $300 million after legal fees, taxes and postage costs are taken out — will be divided up based on how much power each customer purchased during the nearly decade-long V.C. Summer project. 

According to the settlement terms, customers whose refunds are valued at less than $25 will not receive a check in the mail. Instead, they will get a rate credit on their next power bill. 

The rest will receive a check. So will former customers who have no need for a rate credit. Ratepayers won’t need to do anything to get the money.

The law firms managing the settlement fund announced Friday that roughly 1.5 million Santee Cooper and co-op customers will get a refund check in the mail and that on average those checks will include roughly $178.

And another 86,804 power customers will see a credit on their next electricity bill, which will, on average, bring down their power cost by roughly $12. 

Vincent Sheheen, a former state senator and one of the attorneys who represented Santee Cooper power customers, said he was pleased with the settlement and happy to be returning money to people. 

"What is most important is that the money that was wrongfully taken from South Carolinians will no longer be kept by the utility companies, but returned to the customers where it belongs,” he said.

Santee Cooper initially borrowed more than $4 billion through public bonds to fund its portion of the failed nuclear project. Roughly 6 percent of the cost that the electric cooperatives and Santee Cooper's direct customers pay for power is associated with that debt. 

But Santee Cooper has also agreed to freeze rates over the next four years as part of the legal settlement. 

Reach Andrew Brown at 843-708-1830 or follow him on Twitter @andy_ed_brown.

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