Stephen A. Byrne, former executive vice president of SCANA Corporation, pleaded guilty in federal court on July 23 to conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud in connection with the failed $9-billion nuclear-expansion project at South Carolina’s Summer plant.
Byrne, 60, had also been president of generation and transmission and chief operating officer at SCANA subsidiary South Carolina Electric & Gas, overseeing all of SCANA’s nuclear operations, including the construction of the new nuclear units, on which work was stopped in 2017 (NN, Aug. 2017, p. 17).
The plea agreement—the result of a multiyear joint investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the FBI, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the South Carolina Attorney General’s Office, and the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division—requires Byrne to cooperate with law enforcement officials. It also includes an agreement with Virginia-based Dominion Energy that will provide at least $4 billion for ratepayer relief. SCANA became a wholly owned subsidiary of Dominion in July 2019 (NN, Feb. 2019, p. 15).
The charge: Contrary to his public statements, Byrne was aware in June 2016 that the Summer project’s construction schedule and completion dates were unrealistic and unlikely to be achieved, and that both units of the project, Summer-2 and -3, were unlikely to be finished in time to qualify for federal nuclear production tax credits, according to the Department of Justice. His false and misleading statements contributed to SCANA’s success in obtaining rate increases to finance the project, the DOJ said.
The prosecution: “The defendant conspired with others to lie about the progress of the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station so SCANA could wrongly increase rates on hard-working South Carolinians and qualify for up to $1.4 billion in tax credits,” said Peter M. McCoy Jr., United States Attorney for the District of South Carolina. “We will not allow this conduct to go unpunished.”
South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson added, “I appreciate the efforts of this joint federal and state investigation. We’ve long argued that the law allowing SCANA to charge customers billions of dollars for a nuclear plant that wasn’t even operating was unconstitutional. Now, a former SCANA executive is being held criminally accountable for his part in the project.”
The penalty: Byrne faces up to five years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine, but prosecutors said they will request a lesser sentence due to his cooperation. According to an Associated Press report, Byrne will also have to pay up to $1,031,981 in restitution, with the final amount to be determined at his sentencing.