Since recently announcing their opposite decisions to cancel or continue construction, the utility owners of two sister nuclear expansion projects have seen their respective fortunes heading in differing directions. Most recently, the Dept. of Energy on Sept. 29 announced conditional approval of $3.7 billion in new federal loan guarantees for the Plant Vogtle nuclear expansion, politically boosting Georgia Power’s case for completing the project.
The latest DOE support is in addition to the $8.3 billion in loan guarantees that the Obama administration had granted.
“These additional loan guarantees will help us continue to reduce our financing costs,” stated Paul Bowers, Georgia Power president and CEO.
On Aug. 31, Georgia Power advised the state public service commission that it wants to keep building the project. The utility estimated it would take up to five more years and another $9.45 billion to achieve the commercial operation targets of November 2021 and November 2022 for Units 3 and 4, respectively.
Maria Korsnick, president of the Nuclear Energy Institute, applauded the action, stating, “The twin reactors being built there are the only advanced reactors currently being built in the U.S., and their completion is absolutely critical.”
The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy criticized the action.
“Given the cancellation of the V.C. Summer nuclear project in South Carolina, it is uneconomic to complete these two reactors and unfair to utility rate-payers and U.S. taxpayers to be forced to subsidize a sinking ship,” stated Stephen A. Smith, SACE executive director.
Earlier, in August, utilities South Carolina Electric & Gas and Santee Cooper simultaneously announced their decisions to cancel construction of the V.C. Summer nuclear expansion, citing costs. Since then, reports have surfaced that SCE&G and Santee Cooper hid a damning report detailing problems at the project.
On Sept. 26, state Attorney General Alan Wilson filed a request for rate relief, asking the state to order SCE&G to suspend immediately the collection of rates being charged to the utility’s customers. Further, if the state law that helps power companies to fund projects by allowing ratepayers to be charged in advance should be “amended or repealed by the South Carolina Legislature or found to be unconstitutional,” the filing raised the possibility of forcing the utility to refund all money collected to date.
That was just the latest turn of events related to V.C. Summer’s cancellation.
On Aug. 25, Lonnie Carter, the CEO of state-owned Santee Cooper, resigned, with most reports citing the project’s cancellation as the reason. And on Sept. 21, SCANA Corp., the parent company of SCE&G, announced that it was cooperating with a subpoena, issued by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of South Carolina, seeking documents relating to the V.C. Summer project.
The furor has fueled speculation about SCANA’s viability and socked its stock price. At press time, SCANA’s stock was trading at roughly $48, down from about $68 on Aug. 1.