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Westinghouse won’t take position to lift secrecy of nuclear contract

Chuck Crumbo
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Westinghouse Electric notified the S.C. Public Service Commission on Thursday that it doesn’t intend to take a position on a request to revoke confidential treatment of a contract South Carolina Electric & Gas signed for the construction of two reactor units at V.C. Summer Nuclear Station.

In a letter to the commission, Westinghouse senior counsel J. David Mura wrote that the company “does not intend to take any action or position” in relation to a request by the Office of Regulatory Staff to make the contract public.

Westinghouse’s response clears the way for the commission to consider the ORS petition at its May 24 business meeting.

ORS requested regulators require SCE&G to disclose terms of the engineering, procurement, and construction contract and all pricing information related to the project, which is billions over budget, years behind schedule and hobbled by Westinghouse's recent filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. SCE&G earlier said it did not object to the agency's request to make the contract public.

ORS’s petition is backed by the S.C. Small Business Chamber of Commerce, the League of Women Voters of South CarolinaThe Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina, South Carolina chapter of the AARP, and Central Electric Power Cooperative.

In addition, more than 370 letters – mostly AARP form letters – have been filed in support of the ORS petition.

“We need and deserve transparency and consumer protections,” the AARP letter urges.

The project, which employs about 5,000 people, is about one-third complete, and most of the pieces, parts and equipment are either at the construction site, on the way, or already purchased, according to documents filed with the commission.

SCE&G’s parent, SCANA, and its partner, state-operated Santee Cooper, have not announced their next move on the project. Options range from proceeding with construction of both units or totally abandoning the project. SCANA said Westinghouse, which wants to exit as contractor, has agreed to extend the evaluation period through June 26.

Westinghouse has provided SCE&G revised in-service dates of April 2020 and December 2020 for the new units. That compares with in-service dates of 2016 for the first unit and 2019 for the second unit that were included in a May 2008 news release announcing the project.

Since the commission approved SCE&G’s request in 2009 to build the reactors, the company’s electricity customers have been hit with nine rate increases as the result of a state law allowing the utility to seek rate hikes to cover the cost of borrowing money to build the reactors. According to the ORS, residential customers using 1,000 kilowatt hours per month have seen their bills climb to $147.53 per month. About 18.2% of the bill is the result of the nine rate hikes, according to the state agency.

Last fall, the commission approved a new budget that pushes the estimated cost of the project to $13.9 billion, about $3 billion over the original budget approved in 2009.

SCE&G and Santee Cooper currently operate one reactor unit at the Jenkinsville power plant.

Reach Chuck Crumbo at 803-726-7542.

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