South Carolina poured $9 billion into a pair of partially state-owned nuclear energy reactors; now, before it’s produced a single watt of energy, the state is trying to sell it off.
Building on years of coverage by South Carolina outlets like The State, a report from The Intercept published Thursday broke down the disaster that has been the construction of two nuclear reactors by Santee Cooper, a public utility, and South Carolina Electric & Gas, a private energy company.
And yes, before you flee, I am aware that stories on public utilities, state legislatures, and nuclear energy aren’t particularly exciting or enthralling. But, as has been proven time and time again, it’s the boring shit that ends up actually fucking non-wealthy Americans over, so I encourage you to pay attention for at least a minute or two.
The project between SCE&G and Santee Cooper officially began in May 2008, when the pair announced they’d secured a contract to build two nuclear reactors at the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station in Jenkinsville, SC. The plan was signed off on by South Carolina’s Public Service Commission in 2009, with the first reactor expected to be up and running by 2016. And that was about as far as the initiative got before falling flat on its face.
In 2011, SCE&G reported the first delay of many to South Carolina regulators. The 11-month setback grew again with further delays in 2013. Then came the announcement that the plants would cost an extra $1.2 billion. In 2017, the Post & Courier published documents showing officials at both SCE&G and Santee Cooper reviewed a draft audit in 2015 showing the reactors wouldn’t be completed on time, thus making the companies miss out on the $2 billion they hoped to collect in federal tax credits.
The whole time, thanks to a 2007 state law, per the Intercept, South Carolinians were stuck footing the bill, which soon included the costs of criminal investigations, rising debt, and lawsuits. Energy bills across the state spiked. The Post & Courier reported in 2017 that SCE&G had raised its rates nine times since 2009 and that its 718,000 customers were shelling out $27.03 per month solely to fund the doomed nuclear reactors. At the time, that meant nearly 20 percent of the average SCE&G customer’s bill was being flushed down the drain due to corporate incompetence.
SCE&G’s parent company, SCANA, Inc., was officially sold to Dominion at the beginning of January 2019—the company pledged $1,000 cash payments to those affected by the shitshow, although that number falls well below what South Carolina taxpayers shelled out for the project. According to the Intercept, ratepayers still have another $2.3 billion to pay off.
Now, the South Carolina state legislature is trying to backtrack, and have fielded four credible offers to purchase Santee Cooper. Before the sale goes through, South Carolina legislators are assessing whether a sale of the 84-year-old utility would have the intended effect of lowering the energy rates for 2 million customers. They are expected to face a 12 percent rate hike in the coming years if the sale doesn’t go through, according to The State.
“This is the largest financial fiasco in the history of South Carolina,” Republican state Sen. Paul Campbell said during a committee hearing, per Live 5 News. “Between what SCE&G did and what Santee Cooper did and put $9 billion in a hole in the ground that will never produce a kilowatt. Now we have to go and fix it as best as we can.”
Of course, some of the companies looking to buy out the utility—such as Duke Energy and the aforementioned Dominion—are the same companies that have plagued the South by haphazardly dumping coal ash and trying to bum-rush pipeline projects through low-income communities, respectively.
Just keep all this in mind the next you hear someone screaming about how much the Green New Deal will cost.