A South Carolina judge finalized a legal settlement tied to the failed V.C. Summer nuclear project on Tuesday, splitting somewhere between $121 million and $146 million among current and former South Carolina Electric & Gas customers. 

The order ends a lengthy legal battle between the utility and several high-powered law firms that sued on behalf of SCE&G's electric ratepayers. 

Circuit Judge John Hayes said the complexity and scope of the case made it "unparalleled in South Carolina legal history."

The lawsuit largely centered on the more than $2 billion SCE&G charged its customers for two reactors in Fairfield County before the nuclear project was canceled in July 2017.

The S.C. Attorney General's Office and the lawyers representing the ratepayers argued the state law SCE&G relied on to bill customers in advance was unconstitutional. 

But the case was settled late last year before it could proceed to trial. 

SCE&G agreed to pay $115 million in cash and to sell several properties that are valued between $60 million to $85 million. The properties have yet to be sold, which is why the exact award is unknown. 

Whatever money goes back to ratepayers will need to be divided. SCE&G informed the court that 866,554 current electric customers and 742,193 former utility ratepayers were eligible to collect.   

The class-action settlement in November came at a crucial time for the company. SCE&G was fighting another case in front of the Public Service Commission, where it was accused of misleading ratepayers, investors and state officials. 

The legal settlement was announced as the commission weighed whether to allow Dominion Energy, a giant in the utility industry, to take over SCE&G and its parent company SCANA Corp.

Dominion wrapped up its takeover of SCE&G in January, and was allowed to charge ratepayers another $2.3 billion for the unfinished reactors over the next 15 years. But the class-action attorneys were able to take credit for helping to force Dominion into covering another $2 billion in costs tied to the failed nuclear project. 

The firms that litigated the case against SCE&G include the Strom Law Firm; Richardson, Patrick, Westbrook & Brickman; Speights & Solomons; Bell Legal Group; and McGowan, Hood & Felder.

"The court’s order recognizes that our efforts assisting the customer case at the Public Service Commission and pursuing our state court class action were indispensable in bringing about a comprehensive resolution of the controversy," Ed Westbrook, one of the lead attorneys in the case said in a statement Wednesday. 

"From the beginning, our focus has been to get the best result possible for SCE&G’s customers in this extraordinarily difficult litigation against an enormously powerful company," Westbrook added. "We believe the comprehensive settlement the Court has approved more than meets that goal and we are proud to have achieved it."

In recent months, the class-action settlement was held up by several people who objected to the legal fees the attorneys wanted to collect for their work.

Westbrook and the other attorneys asked a judge earlier this year to allow them to pocket up to $66 million of the money SCE&G agreed to pay out.

But Robert Dodson, a Columbia-area attorney who represented several SCE&G ratepayers, objected to those costs. He called the proposed legal fees “outrageously high.” 

The five powerful law firms are now expected to take home $51 million of the total settlement, which could equal up to $200 million depending on what the various properties sell for. 

And for his work challenging the legal fees, Dodson netted $2.9 million. 

Current and former SCE&G ratepayers can find more information on the settlement at scegratepayersettlement.com

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Reach Andrew Brown at 843-708-1830 or follow him on Twitter @andy_ed_brown.

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