Climate & Energy Blog

Friends of the Earth Files Unsolicited Testimony with South Carolina Legislature on Termination of Nuclear Reactor Project

Posted Aug. 22, 2017 / Posted by: Audrey Fox

Exclusion of Public Interest Groups from First Hearings Raises Concern

COLUMBIA, S.C. – Hearings in the South Carolina legislature are getting underway this week on the termination of the mismanaged nuclear reactor construction project with no formal participation by public interest groups. Lack of participation by groups engaged since the failed project began in 2008 is troubling, according to Friends of the Earth.

Hearings on the project, terminated on July 31 after $9 billion had been wasted, will be held by the newly formed Senate V. C. Summer Nuclear Project Review Committee on August 22 and the House Utility Ratepayer Protection Committee on August 23. Both of the meetings will take place in office buildings adjacent to the state capitol in Columbia.

To highlight concerns about the initial hearings, which will receive testimony from the very state regulators that enabled massive cost overruns and the project’s demise, Friends of the Earth is filing unsolicited testimony in absentia. With its testimony, Friends of the Earth wants to both underscore that not involving public interest groups raises questions about how the committees are conducting their business and to also provide key information concerning regulatory agencies that dramatically failed in their oversight responsibilities.

The Friends of the Earth testimony – entitled Doomed from the Start - documents the state’s Public Service Commission (PSC) and the Office of Regulatory Staff (ORS) repeatedly failed to thoroughly analyze suspect requests by utility South Carolina Electric & Gas (SCE&G) concerning cost overruns, schedule delays, construction problems and nine pay-in-advance rate hikes to pay for project financing. Public interest groups, namely Friends of the Earth and the Sierra Club, repeatedly raised warning flags about challenges facing the project but were ignored by both the PSC and ORS.

In its testimony, Friends of the Earth has presented the pertinent “dockets” concerning the project that were reviewed by the PSC and ORS, and in no case was there a negative vote or dissenting opinion to the requests by SCE&G. Only minor modifications were made to whatever SCE&G requested, assuring that the project was headed to disaster.

“As has been clear since day one, both the PSC and ORS viewed their roles as facilitators in what SCE&G requested, an approach that makes the regulators in large part responsible for the resulting debacle,” said Tom Clements, senior adviser with Friends of the Earth. “Both the PSC and ORS rubber stamped every cost overrun and schedule delay that SCE&G asked for and it is now clear that those decisions were based on faulty information and grossly inadequate analyses.”

“For their failure to protect the public interest, PSC commissioners and the director of the ORS must accept responsibility for enabling this $9 billion debacle and resign,” added Clements.

In his testimony, Clements, who led the first intervention by Friends of the Earth in August 2008, states:

Public interest groups, therefore, may be the most credible of potential witnesses who have observed the actions and behavior of South Carolina Electric and Gas, the Public Service Commission of South Carolina and the South Carolina Office of Regulatory Staff. SCE&G falsely and imprudently sold a project that was troubled from the start. The PSC and ORS bought off on it without proper oversight or review and thus abrogated their responsibilities to the people of South Carolina.

So, it’s clear that SCE&G tossed out the bait, ORS baited the hook and the PSC bit. The lack of comprehensive review and unquestioning acceptance of what SCE&G presented, even if based on inaccurate or incomplete information, has resulted in the biggest and most harmful bite of all: right out of SCE&G ratepayers’ pocket book.

Friends of the Earth is hopeful that the legislative committees will soon engage public interest groups and citizens who have participated in proceedings since 2008 and seek their advice about how to deal with those state officials who are responsible for chronic regulatory and oversight failures.

Friends of the Earth, which will be party with the Sierra Club to any future PSC proceedings on the reactor boondoggle, will continue to advocate for return of money to ratepayers, that SCE&G now be saddled with the cost of its imprudent decisions and that lower-cost clean energy options now be pursued.

Notes:

Friends of the Earth testimony, August 22, linked here: http://webiva-downton.s3.amazonaws.com/877/92/e/10766/testimony_in_absentia_August_22_2017.pdf 

Meeting of South Carolina Senate’s V. C. Summer Nuclear Project Review Committee, August 22, agenda linked here: http://www.scstatehouse.gov/agendas/122s7289.pdf

Meeting of House Utility Ratepayer Protection Committee, August 23, agenda linked here: http://www.scstatehouse.gov/agendas/122h7290.pdf

Expert contact: Tom Clements, (803) 834-3084 , tomclementssc@gmail.com
Communications contact: Patrick Davis, (202) 222-0744, pdavis@foe.org

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