MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - Santee Cooper says it will save customers $7 billion after suspending construction on a nuclear project in Jenkinsville. According to reports, the company has already sunk $5 billion into the project and raised customer rates five times to pay for the escalating costs.
According to a news release, the contractor for the project, Westinghouse, filed for bankruptcy in March. Santee Cooper says it spent $4.7 billion in construction and interest. The project wasn't expected to be completed until 2024. It would've cost Santee Cooper customers a total of $11.4 billion.
The original goal of the project almost a decade ago was to create low emissions energy. But the project dragged on longer than expected.
One of the two nuclear units to be built was originally supposed to be completed in 2016, and the other one was supposed to be completed in 2019.
"After Westinghouse's bankruptcy and anticipated rejection of the fixed-price contract, the best case scenario shows this project would be several years late and 75 percent more than originally planned," said President and CEO of Santee Cooper Lonnie Carter. "We simply cannot ask our customers to pay for a project that has become uneconomical. And even though suspending construction is the best option for them, we are disappointed that our contractor has failed to meet its obligations and put Santee Cooper and our customers in this situation."
Environmental groups have called on state regulators to order SCE&G to abandon the projects, the Associated Press reports. They also want customers to be refunded at least some of the billions they'd paid upfront through rates that have increased yearly since 2009. A hearing on that request is set for October.
The utility had already spent about $5 billion for its 45 percent share of the project, and completing it would have cost an additional $8 billion, plus $3.4 billion in interest, the AP reports. Santee Cooper has increased rates five times to pay for the escalating costs. But the Public Service Commission has no authority over the state-owned utility.
Even though the end of this project is expected to save customers money in the long run, Santee Cooper is still considering raising rates for 2018 and 2019.
Santee Cooper will host a series of public meetings this month all across the Grand Strand for customers to express their concerns with the proposed rate hikes.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.