Court input sought on nuke plant funding mechanism

The State Columbia, SC - Business
May 23, 2009, By CHUCK CRUMBO

Groups representing environmentalists and commercial customers are challenging the state's decision to let SCE&G build two reactors at its Jenkinsville nuclear plant.
Friends of the Earth, which wants block the plant, and the State Energy Users Committee have notified the state Supreme Court that they want justices to weigh in on the $9.8 billion project.
Any decision, though, could be a year away, attor neys said.
Meanwhile, SCE&G, which is building the plant with state-operated partner Santee Cooper, said it's on track to seek federal approval. Construction is expected to begin sometime in 2013.
The state Public Service Commission and the state Office of Regulatory Staff are named in the documents both groups filed.
Attorneys want the high court to review the agencies' role as well as the state law governing construction of commercial nuclear reactors.
"There's been no opportunity for our appeals court, in this case the Supreme Court, to review how ORS and the commission are doing their jobs," said Bob Guild, attorney for Friends of the Earth," on Friday.
"And, certainly there has been no litigation whatsoever about the legality" of the law the commission followed in granting Columbia-based S.C. Electric & Gas Co. permission to build the reactors and to begin charging ratepayers to recover construction costs, Guild added.
Following three weeks of hearings, the commission on Feb. 27 issued an order that approved the reactor project. ORS performed a technical review of the application and supported the project.
SCE&G spokesman Eric Boomhower said the utility has followed law, and labeled Friends of the Earth's action as a delaying tactic.
"They've made it very clear from the beginning that they're opposed to this project," Boomhower said.
The Energy Users, though, supports the project.
Instead, it claims the commission is allowing the utility to overcharge ratepayers, said attorney Scott Elliott, of Columbia.
The group is challenging the commission's decision to allow SCE&G to raise rates high enough to collect as much as $438.3 million for contingency costs. Those costs are out of line, Elliott argued in documents.
The Base Load Review Act, passed in 2004, allows a utility to raise rates over the life of a project to cover certain costs, such as interest on money to build the reactors.
SCE&G, in its application to build the plants, projects an incremental rate increase totaling 37 percent over the life of the project, which is scheduled to be completed in 2019.
By raising rates over the project's life, the utility estimates it can save ratepayers $1 billion in interest and shave about $4 billion off the total cost of the project, Boomhower said.
The utility expects to file for a rate increase later this month.
The environmental group claims the commission erred in its order approving the reactor project. The commission also was wrong to deny t he group's request for a rehearing, spokesman Tom Clements said.