Suit accuses SC power co of nuclear negligence

WASHINGTON (AP) — A South Carolina power company was negligent in charging its customers more than $1 billion to build nuclear reactors that have now been abandoned, according to a lawsuit filed late Friday afternoon.

The lawsuit obtained by The Associated Press accuses South Carolina Electric and Gas Co of mismanaging the finances of the project at the VC Summer Nuclear Station and concealing money problems from its customers.

Plaintiff LeBrian Cleckley is seeking class action status.

State-owned utility Santee Cooper and SCE&G decided July 31 to halt construction on two new reactors they’d already jointly spent $10 billion to build, much of that paid by customers.

The project was already years behind schedule and billions over budget when lead contractor Westinghouse declared bankruptcy in March, which voided fixed-price contracts aimed at stopping the escalation.

File photo shows the cooling towers, right, and nuclear reactor containment buildings area, left, at Plant Vogtle Nuclear Power Plant in Waynesboro, Ga. - AP
File photo shows the cooling towers, right, and nuclear reactor containment buildings area, left, at Plant Vogtle Nuclear Power Plant in Waynesboro, Ga. – AP

Executives of both utilities said they were forced to give up after determining the price tag for completing the project, budgeted at $11 billion total in 2008, had soared beyond $20 billion.

The whole deal, the lawsuit says, leaves SCE&G “in possession and ownership of hundreds of millions — if not billions — of dollars-worth of improved real property, personal property, and cash gained at the expense of the Plaintiff … and thousands of other SCE&G customers”.

But neither Cleckley nor any other of the utility’s customers “will receive the nuclear power services promised by SCE&G, and funded by customer investment,” according to the lawsuit.

A spokeswoman for SCE&G’s parent company said it didn’t comment on pending lawsuits.

Pete Strom, a lawyer for Cleckley, told AP the utility had wronged its customers for too long.

“The project has been mismanaged, and the customers want their money back,” Strom said. “They owe a duty to their customers that they borrowed from, just like they would owe to their shareholders if they squandered their investment. The customers didn’t get to decide if they wanted to invest.”