It has been three years since two of South Carolina’s largest electric utilities abandoned their $9 billion effort to build two nuclear reactors, but the legal, political and financial consequences continue to ripple across the Palmetto State.
The scuttled V.C. Summer expansion in Fairfield County is now widely considered one of the biggest business failures in the state’s history. The announcement of the project’s cancellation on July 31, 2017, shook South Carolina’s power industry, state government and business community.
The two homegrown S.C. utilities that partnered on the project were thrown into disarray. Investigations were initiated by state lawmakers, financial regulators and federal law enforcement officials.
The state and federal court systems were flooded overnight with lawsuits by investors, ratepayers, construction workers and lenders. The state regulatory system that backed the project for nearly a decade was called into question.
And more than 1.7 million utility customers with S.C. Electric & Gas, Santee Cooper and the state’s 19 local electric cooperatives realized they might be forced to pay billions of dollars more for a power plant that will never produce a watt of electricity.
Much has changed since Santee Cooper and SCE&G’s leaders suddenly announced the project’s collapse. But the saga isn’t over quite yet. Here is a breakdown of where things stand.
What happened to SCE&G?
The project’s collapse sent SCE&G, an investor-owned utility and the project’s majority owner, into a tailspin. The stock price of its parent company, Cayce-based SCANA Corp., plummeted with the launch of legislative and criminal investigations into the project’s failure, not to mention a flurry of lawsuits against the company from ratepayers and shareholders.
The 175-year-old utility tried to make amends by offering a $5-a-month rate cut, only slightly reducing the $27 a month the typical residential customer was paying in higher power bills for the failed project. State lawmakers rejected that idea almost immediately, calling the meager offer insulting.
Some of SCE&G’s top executives soon left the company amid calls for their resignations.
To save the company and its stockholders, SCE&G’s leaders agreed to allow Dominion Energy to buy the company.
It took over a year for Dominion, an investor-owned utility based in Virginia, to seal that deal. But eventually, the Legislature and state regulators approved of the takeover.
Dominion officially took over SCE&G and SCANA in January 2019. The purchase turned SCE&G into Dominion Energy South Carolina and cut the utility’s nuclear-bloated rates.