The aftermath of two canceled nuclear reactors in South Carolina is still unfolding more than a year after South Carolina Electric & Gas and Santee Cooper pulled the plug on the V.C. Summer project last July.
And that’s unlikely to change any time soon.
The two utilities, South Carolina’s lawmakers, the state’s regulators, a handful of state and federal judges and an army of attorneys have spent the past year probing the $9 billion project that is now considered the biggest economic failure in state history.
Still, almost none of the legal, financial or business implications of the boondoggle have been sorted out yet. In fact, many of the most important issues related to the abandoned reactors are just starting to be explored.
Here’s what you can watch for next:
Temporary rate cut for SCE&G customers
Attorneys representing SCE&G and the state’s House and Senate faced off in federal court last week to decide whether lawmakers can temporarily slash the utility’s electric rates by 15 percent through the end of the year.
U.S. District Judge Michelle Childs is expected to rule early this week on whether SCE&G can stop that temporary rate cut from going into effect.
If the judge doesn't halt the cut, SCE&G's electric rates will shrink starting Tuesday.
The 15 percent cut to people’s bills would drop the amount of money that an average SCE&G customer pays for the abandoned reactors from $27 per month to roughly $5. More than 700,000 SCE&G electric ratepayers could also get credited for the power they already purchased from April to July of this year.
Santee Cooper’s future
A newly-formed legislative committee will meet on Tuesday for the first time to start exploring the future of state-run Santee Cooper, which owns just under half of the failed project in Fairfield County.
The committee could come with some political fireworks. Gov. Henry McMaster, who has been pushing for a sale of the state-owned utility, announced last month that he appointed himself to the panel. The governor will be positioned alongside some of Santee Cooper’s biggest supporters in the Statehouse, including Sen. Larry Grooms, a Republican who represents Moncks Corner where the utility is headquartered.
The state lawmakers taking part in the panel will have quite a lot to debate. Santee Cooper’s interim CEO announced last week that the nuclear-related charges for its average customer could increase from $5 per month to roughly $13 per month. That would mean Santee Cooper's direct customers could pay around $6,200 each by the time the nuclear debt is paid off in 2056.
Santee Cooper versus the South Carolina Electric Cooperatives
Santee Cooper is being sued by its largest customer — South Carolina’s 20 electric cooperatives — and the two sides are still waiting to hear what court will hear their dispute over the cost of the unfinished nuclear reactors.
At question is whether Santee Cooper can charge the co-ops roughly $6.6 million per month for the unfinished power plants. If Santee Cooper is not allowed to charge the co-ops for the failed project, it will place the entire financial burden on the the state-run utility’s nearly 180,000 direct customers.
Last month, Santee Cooper asked the South Carolina Supreme Court to take up the arguments in that case in order to speed up a final legal decision. But the co-ops opposed the move.
The attorneys in the case are still waiting for a ruling from the Supreme Court’s five justices. The decision could help decide the fate of nearly one million electric customers throughout South Carolina.