Santee Cooper is going to hold onto the parts left over from its failed nuclear project at least a little while longer.
The board of the state-owned utility voted Monday to maintain the equipment it purchased while it pursued plans to expand the V.C. Summer nuclear power plant, north of Columbia. It amounts to a bet that another power company — here or abroad — will try to build more nuclear reactors.
And it’s a relatively large one. Santee Cooper and SCE&G bought nearly all the parts they needed for a pair of reactors before they called off construction. By one estimate, they could be worth some $861 million, if someone steps forward to buy them.
Those chances are limited. Santee Cooper and its partner, South Carolina Electric & Gas, were building first-of-their-kind reactors designed by Westinghouse, and the demise of their $9 billion project sent chills through the nuclear industry.
But there are a couple of prospects. Georgia Power is building a couple of Westinghouse reactors near Augusta. Saudi Arabia is considering the idea of building a few. China has fired up one reactor, and it has hinted at plans for more.
Santee Cooper’s decision Monday doesn’t guarantee that the utility will see those possibilities through. Board members only voted to maintain the parts through the end of the year, at a cost of up to $8 million, but they could extend the maintenance work later.
Mike Baxley, the utility’s general counsel, said the picture around the nuclear project could be clearer by then. Westinghouse is expected to emerge from bankruptcy later this year, and legal claims filed by its subcontractors should be resolved, too. That will help clarify basic questions, like what exactly Santee Cooper owns.
Maintenance on the leftover parts only began in earnest earlier this year after months of back-and-forth between Santee Cooper and SCE&G. SCE&G, which is investor-owned, resisted the maintenance program for fear that it might imperil its efforts to claim billions in tax credits for abandoning the project.
Workers from Fluor, a construction giant that was involved with the project, were only allowed on site in late June, and started a maintenance program at the start of the month. Baxley says the program will have about 40 employees once it has ramped up.