McCoy Hearing

House Utility Ratepayer Protection Committee Chairman Peter McCoy, R-S.C., listens as ratepayers testify Tuesday about the collapse of the V.C. Summer nuclear project. Jamie Lovegrove/Staff

COLUMBIA — As South Carolina House members began to hear testimony from ratepayers Tuesday about the failure of a $9 billion nuclear project in the state, the utility committee chairman lambasted the major power company behind the effort for "arrogance" in withholding information from the public.

When Bob Guild, an attorney for the Sierra Club, testified that the Public Service Commission has withheld information from him, Rep. Peter McCoy, R-Charleston, reacted with disgust.

"It seems to me that a fog has descended on SCANA, SCE&G and the PSC," McCoy said, describing Guild's issues as indicative of the "overall arrogance" that the company and regulators have shown towards the public. "These reports are damning at minimum. To keep them from people is a real problem. We need some real oversight over it."

Of all the concerning revelations that have emerged since the V.C. Summer nuclear project was cancelled in July amid massive budget overruns and schedule misses, McCoy said "what keeps me up at night" is SCANA's attempts to keep information private that could shed light on how the project reached its demise.

That resistance to release information is "mindblowing," McCoy added.

In an hour-long retelling of the potential warning signs that the project was not going according to plan, Guild argued that South Carolina needs an independent public advocate to protect ratepayers moving forward, describing the current set-up as wholly deficient.

“You can’t serve two masters, and (Office of Regulatory Staff director) Dukes Scott knows that," Guild said.

But due to the Base Load Review Act, a 2007 law the Legislature passed to allow companies to charge ratepayers while building nuclear plants instead of after they are complete, it will take "some creative lawyering and some strong will" to get that money back, Guild added.

Minutes later, the state attorney general may have made it easier for lawmakers to remedy the situation by issuing an opinion that the controversial law is "constitutionally suspect."

Ratepayers lined up to offer their perspectives on the project's failure, consistently condemning SCANA for continuing to try to get ratepayer's to foot the bill for the boondoggle. 

One man said he had initially been skeptical that lawmakers would do anything about it, particularly given that many of them voted for the Base Load Review Act. But he said the hearings he had seen so far had been "nothing less than encouraging."

"Not only is the federal government looking into SCANA, now with your recommendation, SLED is as well," said the ratepayer, who identified himself as a carpenter. "I really appreciate that."

While the hearing was ongoing, SLED responded to the Monday request from lawmakers and opened a criminal investigation into potential fraud and deception in the lead-up to the project's collapse.

While Rep. Russell Ott, a St. Matthews Democrat and the committee vice-chair, said the many ratepayer grievances were powerful, he added most of them were "nothing new."

"These are the types of complaints, this is the type of anger we've been hearing from the beginning," Ott said. "I think it's justified."

The only former V.C. Summer worker to testify at the hearing, Reginald Bodie, said that the project was the only job he had been fired from in 50 years in the construction industry. Bodie, 68, said construction of the plants was rife with problems for years after he joined the project in 2010. 

When Rep. Tommy Pope, R-York, told Bodie that he thought he may have evidence of potential crimes and asked if he would consider testifying in the investigations, Bodie quoted Al Bundy, a TV character from the TV sitcom 'Married... with Children,' which aired from 1987 to 1997: "Let's rock."

Follow Jamie Lovegrove on Twitter @jslovegrove.

Jamie Lovegrove is a political reporter covering the South Carolina statehouse and congressional delegation. He previously covered Texas politics in Washington for The Dallas Morning News and in Austin for the Texas Tribune.