COLUMBIA — Santee Cooper’s largest customer offered support today for the decision not to continue construction on two nuclear units at the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station in Fairfield County.
“It’s the right decision at the right time,” said Michael N. Couick, president and CEO of the state association of electric cooperatives. “But it was also the right decision to start construction of the nuclear generators in the 2007-2008 time period, contrary to many critics with convenient 20/20 hindsight.”
“What is regrettable, infuriating even, is the failure of the contractor to deliver on its written promises,” said Couick. “If Westinghouse gets bailed out during the bankruptcy proceedings somehow, I hope they’re put under the equivalent of house arrest with an ankle bracelet on them because their behavior has been inexcusable. For months, the owners asked Westinghouse for a fleshed-out schedule of work hours and resources required. Turns out it didn’t even exist. Who builds a project this big like that?”
Regarding the original decision to build the units, Couick noted that many changes have occurred since the start of the project. “We can’t place blame for things the owners could not have known at the time,” he said.
“Today’s low natural gas prices didn’t exist. Further, the U.S. Supreme Court in 2007 said the EPA could regulate greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide emitted by coal- and natural gas-fired power plants. Solar and wind energy and energy storage were not commercially viable. So, what choices were left as utilities faced a booming economy and growing energy use? Nuclear power,” Couick said.
Potential EPA regulation of carbon dioxide emissions, including financial penalties, “could have cost us a billion dollars a year but for the credit we would have gained by having this non-emitting power source under construction in Fairfield County,” said Couick.
“It was a real threat of real costs to South Carolinians. But it didn’t happen, or hasn’t happened yet, so it’s easy for critics of nuclear power to overlook the value.”
“We all wish it had not turned out this way, but stopping is the right choice,” he said.
Note: A recent interview with Mr. Couick provided a substantive review of the the history of policies that led utilities to develop nuclear power. It can be viewed at http://quorumcolumbia.org/2017/07/27/nuclear/