An ex parte hearing before the South Carolina Public Service Commission on Tuesday revealed that the Trump administration failed to respond to requests for assistance to help keep the V.C. Summer nuclear project alive.
SCANA Corp. CEO Kevin Marsh said he was not “optimistic” that the company’s abandonment of the Summer project would spur Washington to action.
- Marsh said he and his counterparts at SCANA’s partner in the project, Santee Cooper, went to “high White House Officials” and “as high as [Energy Secretary] Rick Perry,” but have not received a response.
References to Washington were first mentioned by Marsh in his opening statements to the PSC, but came out in more detail in subsequent questioning when Commissioner G. O’Neal Hamilton asked about the different language in the press releases filed by SCANA and Santee Cooper.
SCANA subsidiary South Carolina Electric & Gas and Santee Cooper on July 31 said they were ceasing construction of the Summer nuclear project.
SCANA’s preference was to complete one of the two reactors under construction and replace the second with a gas-fired plant, but after Santee Cooper decided on the “suspension of construction” of the nuclear project, SCE&G said it was not able to carry the financial burden alone. SCANA’s release was more definitive, saying it planned to abandon the project.
In Santee Cooper's statement, President and CEO Lonnie Carter said the state-owned electric power supplier would “continue investigating federal support and additional partners to see if we can make the project economical again.”
Among other things, spokeswoman Mollie Gore said Santee Cooper was working with members of Congress on an extension of the nuclear production tax credit and on revising the provisions of the PTC to allow the assignment of benefits. Santee Cooper, as a state agency, cannot use tax credits.
To be eligible for the nuclear PTC the reactors must be in operation by 2020. The House of Representatives in June passed a bill extending the PTC, but the bill has been sidetracked in the Senate by debate over the Affordable Care Act.
SCE&G’s most recent estimated completion date for the two reactors is 2022 and 2025.
In the hearing, Marsh said that in his conversations with Santee it was clear their desire was for the government to lend support to the project or for another partner to step in. But Marsh said SCANA had pursued those options for four months and had talked with “a couple of utilities.” But there were no takers.
Marsh added that he would still be open to a partner coming into the project but also noted that it would take up to six months to negotiate a partnership agreement, during which time costs would continue to accrue.
He also noted that four years ago, Santee Cooper searched for a partner. Duke Energy was interested, but Marsh said Duke was not willing to assume an equal share of the project risk.
Marsh said he had been to Washington twice with Carter and his counterparts at Southern Co., which is building a similar nuclear project in Georgia, and had “very direct discussions with high officials in the White House, the Department of Energy, and other connected people to the energy business or sector, in Washington.”
He said the DOE did offer a loan, but said that “doesn’t help the situation we’re in.”
On further questioning, Marsh said that at a minimum it would take a couple of developments for SCANA to consider reversing its decision on Summer. One would be a governmental support to backstop the additional cost of completing the project so that ratepayers would not be further burdened, and the other would be an extension of the nuclear PTC, which he said has a value to SCANA of about $2 billion.
Marsh said that neither he nor anyone on his team had heard from Washington since the news of the abandonment of the Summer project broke.