VC Summer Jan 31 2018 IMG_3575.jpg (copy)

An aerial shows the the V.C. Summer nuclear project. File/Provided/High Flyer

Santee Cooper will preserve the site of South Carolina’s abandoned nuclear project at least temporarily, taking control of the unfinished power plant months after its partner decided to walk away for good.

That’s according to a letter sent Wednesday from Santee Cooper’s board chairman to Gov. Henry McMaster, who had called for the partially built reactors to be maintained.

The letter indicates that it will cost Santee Cooper $16 million a year to maintain the reactors and the enormous stockpile of equipment purchased for the project. It’ll cost another $3 million to buy insurance and lease warehouses to store parts.

The details of those plans haven’t been formally approved by the board of Santee Cooper, a government-owned power company that primarily sells power to the state’s electric cooperatives. The board is expected to meet Friday to discuss the proposal.

Santee Cooper spokeswoman Mollie Gore said the utility’s board had previously voted to preserve the site through July. Friday’s meeting will consider how to “continue those efforts on our own, without SCANA,” she said.

The letter from acting board chairman Bill Finn says Santee Cooper’s management will be instructed to draw up a maintenance plan. Finn and Santee Cooper’s top executives met with the governor on Tuesday.

Santee Cooper has been under pressure from state lawmakers to keep up the site ever since the project’s majority owner, South Carolina Electric & Gas, decided it was abandoning the site permanently. SCE&G says it can claim a tax write-off worth billions by letting the reactors rust away.

Lawmakers balked at that plan because SCE&G and Santee Cooper spent $9 billion on the nuclear project before pulling the plug in July. Cost overruns piled up into the billions, schedule delays were stretching on for years, and the economics of nuclear power had become unappealing compared with cheap natural gas. Legislators wondered if the energy landscape might not turn around later.

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So SCE&G’s parent company, Cayce-based SCANA Corp., devised a new plan late last year: It would hand its stake in the project to Santee Cooper for nothing, if it picked up the cost of preserving the site. The two utilities have been hashing out the details since.

“Santee Cooper is working with SCANA to transfer their ownership interest in the project’s equipment and commodities to Santee Cooper,” Gore said.

If that transfer goes through, Santee Cooper will take over an enormous swath of equipment and parts that are being stored in warehouses around Columbia. Altogether, they cover the area of nearly seven football fields, state regulators say.

SCE&G and Santee Cooper are expected to sell some of that equipment to Southern Co., the Georgia utility that is building a pair of identical reactors south of Augusta.

How much the rest of the equipment is worth is an open question. But a previously undisclosed report estimated that the nuclear plant’s parts could be salvaged for more than $860 million.

Reach Thad Moore at 843-937-5703. Follow him on Twitter @thadmoore.