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McMaster forms ‘rapid response’ coalition to aid displaced V.C. Summer workers

Government
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Gov. Henry McMaster today announced the creation of a “rapid response” coalition of public and private organizations to help workers who lost their jobs this week when SCE&G and Santee Cooper shutdown the new reactor project at V.C. Summer Nuclear Station at Jenkinsville.

The coalition, called Employ SC, will host its first job fair event Aug. 14, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., at the Center for Advanced Technical Studies, 916 Mount Vernon Road, in Chapin.

The Employ SC event was the latest development in the aftermath of companies’ announcement that the project had been scuttled project. On other fronts:

  • S.C. Sen. Tom Alexander, R-Walhalla, agreed to a request from Sen. Luke Rankin, R-Conway, to call a special meeting of the Public Utilities Review Committee on Aug. 23 to explore circumstances that led South Carolina Electric & Gas and Santee Cooper to abandon the project.
  • The S.C. Public Service Commission rejected SCE&G's motion to dismiss a hearing requested by Friends of the Earth/Sierra Club for state regulators to probe the prudency of the project.
  • The Carolinas Associated General Contractors announced that members are looking for workers and encourages those who’ve lost their jobs to send post resumes on the organization’s careers page website and Facebook page.

“For South Carolinians, the shuttering of V.C. Summer comes as a jarring break of faith – not only for the thousands of employees now searching for jobs after a decade of construction, but for millions of consumers whose power bills are paying for a project that will never be completed,” McMaster said in a statement.

“South Carolinians have faced and overcome many challenges, and we take care of each other – especially in hard times. I ask everyone to join me in once again showing those outside our state what it means to be one of us.”

McMaster said Employ SC aims to connect former V.C. Summer workers with employers and available jobs. “We will not rest until we have exhausted every avenue for those affected,” the governor said.

More than 5,000 workers lost their jobs at 1 p.m. Monday when the utilities pulled their collective plug from the project. Most the workers employed by contractors said they received little if any severance, except for accrued vacation time.

SCE&G, principal subsidiary of SCANA Corp., notified the S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce that 617 SCE&G employees plus an “unknown number of employees” of affiliated companies that provide administrative support were out of a job. 

SCE&G workers affected by the shutdown represent a range of jobs from control room operators to engineers. The company said the separations are expected to begin Sept. 30, although some employees may remain on the job to assist with the shutdown.

Employ SC will provide displaced workers a chance to meet with representatives of state agencies and workforce development groups and be matched with prospective employers. Local businesses with vacancies will also participate.

State agencies attending the Aug. 14 event include SCDEW; Corrections; Labor, Licensing, and Regulation; Transportation; Administration; Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services; Health and Human Services; Insurance; Juvenile Justice; DMV; Probation, Pardon, and Parole; Public Safety; Revenue; Social Services; Education; and South Carolina Technical College System

Private employers include Michelin, Duke Energy, Georgia Pacific, and United Infrastructure Group, according to a press release from the governor’s office. Future job fairs are planned.

Turning to the Senate, Rankin said in a letter requesting the Aug. 23 meeting that the hopes the committee can:

  • Receive input from the leadership of SCE&G and Santee Cooper on the circumstances that led to the shutdown.
  • Determine if there were warning signs during the project that “could have helped us avoid the potential loss of this substantial investment by citizens of South Carolina.”
  • Understand what steps are underway or being used to address to the “immediate future of the project” and costs ratepayers face.
  • And, determine how suspending the project impacts the state’s ability to provide “affordable, and dependable” energy.

“It is imperative that governmental and regulatory leaders determine how this happened and what led to this decision,” Rankin said in a statement. “This meeting of the Public Utilities Review Committee will be a good first step in that process.”

The Senate announcement follows Wednesday’s development that members of the General Assembly have formed the Energy Caucus. Legislators said the caucus, which has about 50 members, will investigate what led to the project’s collapse, and how state regulatory agencies handled the process of licensing the project and approving annual rate hikes to cover the cost of borrowing billions to pay for it.

Meanwhile, the decision by the Public Service Commission to dismiss SCE&G’s request to dismiss the Friends of the Earth/Sierra Club petition for a hearing on the nuclear construction project was praised by Tom Clements, senior adviser of Friends of the Earth.

"A vote in the public interest by the PSC is unprecedented and it is thus clear that the PSC is feeling the growing pressure to not simply kowtow to SCE&G's misguided and disturbing plan to charge ratepayers for 60 years for the failed nuclear project,” Clements said in a statement.  “We are pleased with this vote and view it highly likely that our docket will be merged with the abandonment docket of SCE&G, preserving our right to explore the past prudency and cost overrun decisions."

Originally advertised to cost $9.8 billion in a press release announcement the project in March 2008, the budget was set at more than $11 billion when state regulators green-lighted the project in 2009. The price climbed over $14 billion in 2016 when the commission approved cost overruns.

But as the project fell further behind and the contractor Westinghouse Electric’s filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in March, workers drilled down into the numbers and estimated that the project would cost north of $20 billion when competed. ‘

The price was too steep for Santee Cooper, which owned 45% of the project, and decided on Monday to suspend its participation. Without a partner, SCE&G announced the shutdown.

Abandoning the project under the state Base Load Review Act will allow SCE&G to recover some costs. However, the company said it plans to use about $1.2 billion — its share of the $2.2 billion settlement from Westinghouse’s parent, Toshiba Corp., as well as “benefits derived from tax deductions to mitigate rate increases and lessen the impact on our customers for several years,” according to a news release.

SCANA said its cost of the project will be amortized over 60 years.

About $9 billion has been spent on the project by SCE&G and state-operated Santee Cooper.

Reach Chuck Crumbo at 803-726-7542.

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August 04, 2017

Why doesn't McMasters stand up for the customers who were force-fed astronomical rates for the past 5 years while the shareholders were never held accountable? I do feel sorry for the people who are out of work but we have been hoodwinked and robbed from the beginning with a ridiculous law allowing rate hikes without accountability. How is that allowed to happen to the public? The lawmakers are suppose to protect the public, not fleece them.