Budget overruns at nuclear plant squeezing S.C. customers; energy efficiency offers alternative

Construiction of the South Carolina Electric & Gas Virgil C. Summer nuclear power plant is over-budget by $4 billion. (© High Flyer/Savannah River Site Watch)

When customers pay their power bills from South Carolina Electric & Gas, not all the money goes to keeping the lights on.

A chunk of the tally – nearly 20 percent of the average bill – is diverted each month to cover the construction financing and cost overruns of two planned nuclear reactors.

Eight times in the past seven years, SCE&G customers have been hit with bill increases to pay for the ballooning costs at the under-construction VC Summer nuclear power plant. First proposed at a cost of $10 billion, the price tag now tops $14 billion.

The latest appeal for more cash is underway now. The utility is asking the South Carolina Public Service Commission to OK another $852 million increase, to be paid by its customers. But at the same time, the utility’s energy-efficiency programs are lagging when compared to the programs of other regional utilities.

In other words, SCE&G is asking customers to pay more, while doing little to help them save more.

“The Public Service Commission should not approve another penny of cost increases without boosting efficiency programs to save the vast majority of customers money on their bills,” said Kenneth Sercy, the Energy Specialist for the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League (CCL). “Strong efficiency programs reduce bills for all customer populations even while giving people greater comfort in their homes. At a time when it should be flexing up, SCE&G’s program has gotten weaker by the day."

To prepare for the utility’s latest request for more money, CCL commissioned a study of the SCE&G lagging energy-efficiency program. The study found that if SCE&G matched and maintained the program from Duke Energy, it would mean a cumulative savings of $214 million for SCE&G customers. The average customer would save $20 a year. Some would save up to $350.

CCL submitted the energy-efficiency report as part of the public service commission’s hearing on the utility’s request to pass the nuclear plant’s cost increase to customers. SCE&G and construction companies are working out a settlement that would cap the cost overruns, and that would protect SCE&G customers if the overruns continue.

Blan Holman, managing attorney of SELC’s Charleston office, said SCE&G has a duty to fortify its paltry energy-efficiency program in the meantime. That, he says, would help offset the reactor-driven bill increases.

“When it comes to electricity, people focus on their monthly power bills – and that’s exactly where strong energy efficiency programs help out,” Holman said. “Strong programs help people in Arkansas, in Maryland, in other parts of South Carolina. There’s no reason they can’t help the people served by SCE&G.”

To read a copy of the CCL report, click here.

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