South Carolina Electric & Gas says it’s too early for the state to halt construction on the troubled V.C. Summer Nuclear Station, telling regulators that environmental groups’ efforts to unwind the troubled nuclear project are "premature."
In a document filed this week, the Cayce-based utility asked the Public Service Commission to toss out a complaint filed last month by Friends of the Earth and the Sierra Club.
The environmental groups have asked for a hearing about the project. Among other things, they wanted the commission to put the brakes on plans to build two new nuclear reactors and to look at refunding utility customers for the billions of dollars they paid upfront for the project.
The future of the two reactors, which are being built in Fairfield County about 30 miles north of Columbia, has been thrown in doubt by mounting delays and budget overruns. The project’s lead contractor, Westinghouse Electric, filed for bankruptcy protection earlier this year as costs at the South Carolina project and another in Georgia piled up.
SCE&G and its junior partner, state-owned utility Santee Cooper, are in the process of evaluating whether to scrap the project or press on.
Until the power companies make a decision, SCE&G argues that the environmentalists’ request is "statutorily prohibited or premature." Legally, the utility says, the state can’t take up the case unless SCE&G asks to change its plans for the reactors because the utility is following a path regulators have already approved.
The environmental groups shot back Friday, asking commissioners to deny the utility’s motion and arguing that regulators have a duty to ask "what did the company know, and when did they know it."
"It is high time for commission intervention to stop the financial bleeding and act to protect the Company’s ratepayers," Columbia attorney Bob Guild wrote in a filing.
But SCE&G says the groups’ concerns about the project have already been aired. Company spokeswoman Rhonda O’Banion said regulators have reviewed the nuclear reactors six times, so there’s no need to take up the issue again until their future comes into focus.
"The company has never objected to their right to be heard in these proceedings and expects them to participate in the docket that SCE&G will initiate after our evaluation is completed," O’Banion said in an email. "But until that time, proceedings like the one requested by the Friends of the Earth and the Sierra Club are premature."
The company’s motion came just over a week after the environmental groups formally requested documents from SCE&G, including a schedule for the nuclear projects and its analysis of Westinghouse’s financial stability.
In a statement, Friends of the Earth adviser Tom Clements said the motion to dismiss the case "stonewalls" its requests.
"SCE&G has the arrogance to claim that it alone may choose whether to abandon construction and to saddle ratepayers with even higher utility bills," Clements said.
The Public Service Commission is scheduled to hold a hearing on the case on Oct. 2.