SCANA Corp.’s troubles concerning its decision to abandon the V.C. Summer nuclear expansion intensified again this week after South Carolina’s attorney general’s office and state lawmakers urged state law enforcement to conduct a criminal investigation on how it handled the project.
The company said in a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on September 26 that South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson, Speaker of the South Carolina House of Representatives James Lucas (R), and members of the South Carolina House Utility Ratepayer Protection Committee—including Chairman Peter McCoy (R) and Vice Chairman Russell Ott (D)—have requested that the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) conduct a criminal investigation of how SCANA Corp. and its primary subsidiary South Carolina Electric and Gas Co. (SCE&G) handled the project.
In a letter sent to SLED Chief Mark Keel on September 25, the state lawmakers said that even as they would continue to examine the “possible statutory and regulatory failings” that contributed to the collapse of the project, they suspected “criminal activity exists at the root of the V.C. Summer disaster.” They added: “[I]t is imperative that it be discovered as quickly as possible and that those responsible are held accountable for their actions.”
“During the course of SCANA’s testimony before the committee and through the examination of thousands of pages of documents, it has become our belief that the proximate cause of the V.C. Summer collapse is a direct result of misrepresentation by SCANA and SCE&G,” the letter says. “We also believe that criminal fraud through the concealment of material information is also a plausible cause for the project’s disastrous collapse.”
The lawmakers said that they will continue to scrutinize Santee Cooper’s role in the collapse.
Meanwhile, neither the Speaker’s office nor the House Utility Ratepayer Protection Committee would have “any further contact with officials from SCANA or SCE&G,” the lawmakers told Chief Keel.
— Peter M. McCoy, Jr. (@petermccoyforsc) September 25, 2017
Even before the heads at the Utility Ratepayer Protection Committee sent their letter, Chair McCoy appeared convinced of SCANA’s guilt. “Deception & greed shown by SCANA is astounding. It’s nothing short of criminal to take money from ratepayers knowing the project was doomed,” he said in a September 24 tweet. Micah Caskey (R), another member of the committee, chimed in on Twitter.
I’m with Chairman @petermccoyforsc. This kind of deliberate, intentional conduct is unacceptable and absolutely deserves no leniency. https://t.co/hd0nJXpEZo — Micah Caskey ?? (@MicahCaskey) September 24, 2017
“SCANA and SCE&G intend to fully cooperate with any potential government investigation of the project,” SCANA Corp. said in its financial filing on Tuesday. “If an investigation is commenced by SLED, no assurance can be given as to the timing or outcome of this matter.”
The requests come after SCANA and project partner Santee Cooper revealed that they received federal subpoenas for documents associated with a much-guarded February 2016 assessment report conducted by Bechtel, documentation of meetings with the firm, and documentation of site walkdowns and real-time observations at the half-built project.
The Bechtel audit has been the focus of several long South Carolina legislative committee hearings. At one point, state lawmakers threatened to subpoena if the utilities didn’t release it.
The two-unit project to build first-of-their-kind AP1000 reactors was about 64% complete in May, but it had been in limbo since key contractor Westinghouse filed for bankruptcy in March.
The utility partners announced their decision to abandon the project on July 31. SCANA said its share of costs to finish the project as 55% owner would soar to $9.9 billion, while Santee Cooper, which owns the remaining 45%, said it would have needed to spend about $8 billion to complete construction, plus about $3.4 billion for interest. The decision to abandon the project would save customers nearly $7 billion, the partners said.
—Sonal Patel is a POWER associate editor (@sonalcpatel, @POWERmagazine)