Former SCANA exec pleads guilty in Summer fraud case

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).

Santee Cooper, Dominion agree to pay $520 million in Summer suit

A circuit court judge on July 20 gave final approval to a $520-million settlement in a class action civil suit brought against Santee Cooper over alleged deceptive business practices involving the failed nuclear-expansion project at South Carolina’s Summer plant.

Santee Cooper was the junior partner to SCANA Corporation’s South Carolina Electric and Gas in the two-reactor project, which was canceled in July 2017 (NN, Aug. 2017, p. 17). In July 2019, SCANA became a wholly owned subsidiary of Virginia-based Dominion Energy (NN, Feb. 2019, p. 15).

According to the lawsuit, brought by ratepayers, Santee Cooper raised rates to cover the increasing costs of the Summer expansion even after becoming aware that the project was no longer viable.

Weighing options for NextEra Energy and Summer-­2 and -­3 site

NextEra Energy announced on February 11 that its bid to buy South Carolina’s public utility, Santee Cooper, is the “recommended purchase proposal” following a formal bid invitation called for by the state’s General Assembly in May 2019 (NN, June 2019, p. 9). Competing with NextEra’s purchase offer is a reform plan put forward by Santee Cooper in an attempt to avoid a sale as the utility continues to grapple with the failed Summer-­2 and -­3 nuclear construction project and the $3.6 billion in debt incurred before the project was halted in July 2017.

A report from the South Carolina Department of Administration published on February 11 outlined the competing plans and factors that the General Assembly may want to take into consideration as it mulls the plans. A third option, a proposal by Dominion Energy to take over the management, but not the ownership, of Santee Cooper was also evaluated.