'People Need to be Fired' Over Nuclear Plant Debacle, Lawmaker Says

The lawmakers have formed a caucus in the wake of a disastrous project to build two nuclear reactors.

Columbia, SC (WLTX) - A bipartisan group of South Carolina lawmakers says there need to be greater accountability from South Carolina's energy industry and regulatory agencies after the abandonment of a nuclear reactor project, a failure that's costing thousands of people their jobs.

The Republican and Democrats said Wednesday at a State House news conference that they're forming an "energy caucus" to force changes in the wake of the decision made at V.C. Summer Nuclear station in Fairfield County. About two dozens of the workers from the plant who have lost their jobs were there, clad in safety vests, to hear what representatives had to say.

"You deserve better," Rep. James Smith, a Democrat from Richland County, told those in attendance.

On Monday, SCE&G and Santee Cooper announced they were walking away from a multi-year, multi-billion dollar project to build two new reactors at VC Summer, even though the units were only partially built. The project was over budget and over schedule, and the companies said if they'd kept going, it would have cost billions more. 

Previous Coverage: SCE&G, Santee Cooper Abandon Nuclear Project 

With the decision, about 5,600 employees learned they'd no longer have a job to go to.

"The level of accountability that the workers of South Carolina have been put through, which is when a project fails, they lose their job, that level of accountability is going to go up through the system," said Rep. Kirkman Finlay, a Republican from Columbia.
Santee Cooper owned 45 percent of the project, while SCE&G owned 55 percent. Westinghouse, which had been contracted for the project, filed for bankruptcy, in part because of losses related to the failure. 
"The public trust is gone," said Rep. Micah Caskey, a Republican from Lexington County,. "I want to be crystal clear what I'm saying: people need to be fired. This is not okay."

The workers in attendance cheered the comment.

Caskey at one point referred to the Public Service Commission, which approves rate increases for the utilities, as the "Puppet" Service Commission.

"This is a 9 billion dollar problem," he added. "This is a problem so big you could have built a nuclear aircraft carrier on Lake Monticello and still had money left over."

The lawmakers all said that there had been a failure to properly have a plan for South Carolina's energy future, and holding people accountable. Smith said he wants to see reforms to protect taxpayers, new measures to ensure competitive rates. and to adequately take into account the concerns of workers. 

"The decision making process for South Carolina's energy further is broken, it does not work," Smith said. "It does not taken into account adequately the rate payers in South Carolina,and it does not take adequately into account the workers."

The caucus also talked about repealing or reforming the Base Load Review Act.  The 2008 law allowed SCE&G to charge its roughly 700,000 customers for construction of the two new reactors while the project was still under construction.

Previous Coverage: Businesses Brace for Loss After Reactor Decision

On average, SCE&G estimated that about 18 percent of each customer's monthly bill went to fund the reactors, and there had been nine rates increases over the last decade. Now, SCE&G says they'll try to recover the costs of the project through another rate increase spread out over 60 years.

"The ratepayers of South Carolina, us, our children, and if the plan is to believed, our grandchildren will be paying for the colossal mistakes that have been made," said Finlay. "We unfortunately have given more of a blank check to the utilities than we ever should have. That is going to change on a go forward basis."

The caucus wants to stop SCE&G from collecting the money, and start giving rebates to consumers.

At a meeting of the Public Service Commission Tuesday, one member said he was "blindsided" by the power company's decision.

"It's an outrageous comment," Smith said. 

The community was counting on the taxes and economic influx, Smith said. Schools were even planned based on the expectation that those reactors would be built.

Previous Coverage: Whole Neighborhoods Affected by Reactor Decision 

The lawmakers also discussed giving the $2.2 billion that Toshiba, the parent company of Westinghouse, will pay the utilities for it's part of the project should go directly back to taxpayers. 

"I think the thing that is so demoralizing is there was a wonderful opportunity to move South Carolina forward in a very positive way in a low cost way. Instead we see people losing their jobs," Finlay said. "We unfortunately have given more of a blank check to the utilities than we ever should have. That is going to change on a go forward basis."

He asked that the public keep lawmakers and state agencies accountable going forward. 

The Public Service Commission was set to meet again Wednesday afternoon. 




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