The future of SCANA chief executive Kevin Marsh was dramatically thrown into limbo Saturday amid an accusation that the Cayce-based utility offered his ouster in a bid to broker a deal with lawmakers.
By late afternoon, it wasn't clear whether the leader of South Carolina's largest company still had a job, three months after its ambitious $9 billion nuclear power project went belly up. SCANA denied a report that Marsh had been "ousted."
The speculation around SCANA's management, specifically Marsh and chief nuclear officer Stephen Byrne, comes as the company seeks to negotiate a deal to settle how much its electric customers have to pay for the reactors in Fairfield County.
On Thursday, Marsh told investors that the company was in "preliminary" talks for a settlement, but he declined to say who was at the table. He added that he was encouraged that talks were happening at all amid a political maelstrom that has spooked investors and cost the company billions of dollars in market value.
State Rep. Kirkman Finlay, R-Columbia, told The Post and Courier that he'd heard SCANA floated the possibility of Marsh's ouster as part of those negotiations. SCANA declined to comment on whether it had made such an offer.
"If they are under the impression that we are going to make ratepayers pay so that Kevin Marsh leaves, they are under the wrong impression," Finlay said. "There will be no quid pro quo. The ratepayers have paid enough for Kevin Marsh."
Asked whether House Speaker Jay Lucas had been in talks with SCANA, his spokeswoman, Caroline Delleney, responded with a letter Lucas wrote last month, vowing not to have "any further contact" with the company’s executives.
Rep. Tommy Pope, the House's No. 2 official, likewise rejected the notion that lawmakers would lay off in return for Marsh's ouster.
"SCANA’s conduct in this matter transcends who's at the helm," Pope said, calling problems with the nuclear project "a corporate course of conduct, not an individual course of conduct."
The board of SCANA, the owner of South Carolina Electric & Gas, met Saturday morning to discuss Marsh's departure, people familiar with the situation told The Post and Courier. But SCANA denied that Marsh's ouster was imminent after six years at the helm.
Meantime, The State newspaper of Columbia and Fitsnews.com cited anonymous sources in reports suggesting that Byrne, the company’s top nuclear official, was likewise on the way out. SCANA said that was "not true."
"A report in The State newspaper that SCANA has 'ousted' Kevin Marsh and Steve Byrne is not true," company spokesman Eric Boomhower said in an email Saturday afternoon.
Asked if either man had retired or resigned, Boomhower declined to elaborate. Marsh couldn't be reached for comment Saturday.
Marsh and Byrne were the top SCANA executives overseeing the expansion of the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station in Fairfield County, which was abandoned in late July. SCANA and its partner on the project, the state-owned utility Santee Cooper, spent $9 billion before halting construction.
The project's failure has set off a swirl of legal, political and regulatory uncertainty for SCANA and Santee Cooper. The companies face dozens of lawsuits, at least three state and federal investigations and a political firestorm that could reshape the state's energy sector.
So far, no SCANA executives have lost their jobs in the wake of the project's cancellation, which triggered one of the largest layoffs in South Carolina's recent history.
The only executive to quit since the project was nixed has come from Moncks Corner-based Santee Cooper. Lonnie Carter, its longtime chief executive, was replaced earlier this month after retiring from his post weeks after the reactors were canceled.
SCANA's management, meantime, had been relatively insulated from the project's fallout. But the company's stock has plunged in recent months as uncertainty grows and political pressure mounts, shedding billions of dollars in value.
And on Thursday, the project's cancellation began to hit SCANA's bottom line: The company told investors it expects to eat more than $200 million of the reactors' cost.
The write-down assumes that the company will be stuck with the bill it racked up over the past year and a half on the project, but it’s not clear how much the company will ultimately pay more or less than that sum.
The uncertainty stems from a regulatory process that will begin in December. The state’s utility watchdog has asked regulators to slash ratepayers’ power bills and consider ordering refunds for the roughly $1.7 billion SCE&G customers have already paid.
Some 18 percent of SCE&G customers’ electric bills is earmarked for the reactors, and the company collects $37 million each month toward the project’s bills.
Marsh and Byrne were among the SCANA executives who saw their pay swell as the reactors were built, earning bonuses in part for their work on the project even after questions surfaced about its viability.
Marsh earned $6.1 million last year, including stock awards, and he earned incentive pay in part for his "oversight and support of our new nuclear construction," securities disclosures show. Byrne, meantime, made $2.6 million, including pay for his "continuing oversight" of the project.