Updated 1:10 p.m.
South Carolina ratepayers may have recourse, in the end, to recoup losses paid into a nuclear reactor project abandoned in July by two utilities that didn’t hold their end of the bargain, according to one utility lawyer.
Protections for customers exist under the 2007 Base Load Review Act, which made it easier for utilities to hike rates to fund projects ahead of completion.
“All [the partners] had to do was stay on time and budget,” Scott Elliott said Friday to a special House committee investigating the project’s failure.
“They live by the Base Load Review Act, they die by the Base Load Review Act,” he said.
A 2015 report by project management firm, Bechtel Corporation, alerted partners South Carolina Electric and Gas and state-owned Santee Cooper to the project’s lack of feasibility. That report, Elliott said, will be material in existing and prospective lawsuits against the utilities and in the abandonment proceedings.
Executives at SCANA, SCE&G’s parent company, testified that project construction was feasible, however. They cited collaboration with builders of a similar nuclear project in China.
The partners were made aware of the report’s findings in October 2015. Since then, SCE&G requested—and received—approval of one cost overrun and one rate increase.
“There was clear intent here to bury this report,” said Rep. Russell Ott, D-St. Matthews.
Santee Cooper released the report in September after pressure from Gov. Henry McMaster to do so increased.
The committee is slated on Friday afternoon to question SCANA on what they knew and when.
Elliott thinks the utilities had a duty to disclose the report under the regulation that created the state Office of Regulatory Staff, which exists protect ratepayers. The report was designed to protect attorney-client privilege, however.
Elliott served on the Public Service Commission from 1999 to 2000. The PSC is responsible for approving—or rejecting—prospective rate hikes by utilities.