Utility CEO: No response from Trump administration on saving Summer nuclear project

The Trump Administration—despite public pronouncements vowing support for U.S. nuclear energy— gave little or no response after executives with both Santee Cooper and South Carolina Electric & Gas made pleas to save the now abandoned construction of two units at the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station, according to transcript of recent testimony before South Carolina regulators.

The fate of the two Jenkinsville, S.C. units 2 and 3—work on which ran up billions in extra costs and uncertainty over the recent bankruptcy of reactor builder Westinghouse—might have turned out different if the federal government had offered some kind of viable alternatives, officials said.

Kevin Marsh, CEO of SCE&G parent SCANA, told the Public Service Commission of South Carolina on Wednesday that he pleaded for the projects because of his belief that a strong nuclear fleet was in the national security interest. The companies involved in the V.C. Summer work made several trips to Washington D.C. all to no avail, he said.

“We delivered our message very directly, very clearly, in terms of what we were looking for to support the projects,” Marsh testified. “We went as high as Rick Perry, Secretary of Energy, in the last meeting we had up there, and we’ve not gotten a response.”

Marsh said he believed that officials evaluated options to try and help the nuclear work. The U.S. Department of Energy did offer a loan, which project leaders determined were not sufficient considering the $1 billion or more needed over the fixed price of the project.

“And we asked the government to make up that difference or provide us with the backstops; if we actually incurred those dollars, they would backstop the project in the form of a grant. It was a very clear request,” the SCANA CEO continued.

“We pursued that as hard as we could,” Marsh added. “I was on the phone with a number of officials (as were other executives)”And we got no response.”

Santee Cooper CEO Lonnie Carter also made pleas to Washington, to no avail, the testimony indicates.

At the “Unleashing American Energy” event in June, President Trump vowed to fight for nuclear power.

“First, we will begin to revive and expand our nuclear energy sector— which I’m so happy about—which produces clean, renewable and emissions-free energy,” he said during the “Unleashing American Energy” event two months ago. “A complete review of U.S. nuclear energy policy will help us find new ways to revitalize this crucial energy resource. “

The president, however, long has expressed skepticism about energy subsidies, particularly for renewables. He also has vowed to simplify regulatory hurdles for the coal-fired generation industry. 

 The shutdown of the V.C. Summer work will cease jobs for about 5,000 people, according to reports.  The Public Service Commission of South Carolina transcript also indicated that officials with Southern Co. were lobbying Washington D.C. looking for similar help in their Vogtle nuclear plant construction in Georgia.

Previous reports also indicated that ratepayers may not get a refund despite the cessation of the Summer project. They have paying for it nearly 10 years.


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