Former SC utility CEO pleads guilty to nuclear plant fraud
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The utility executive who spent billions of dollars on two South Carolina nuclear plants that never generated a single watt of power pleaded guilty to federal conspiracy charges Wednesday.
Former SCANA Corp. CEO Kevin Marsh will likely spend two years in prison and pay $5 million back to ratepayers, per the plea agreement prosecutors presented to U.S. District Judge Mary Geiger Lewis in Columbia.
Marsh’s formal acknowledgement of his role in the conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud comes more than three years after the project imploded publicly and federal and state agencies began investigating.
Marsh, 65, will be free on bond as he cooperates with federal authorities until he is formally sentenced. He headed to Spartanburg in the afternoon to plead guilty on a state charge tied to the investigation. Officials said he will serve any state sentence he receives concurrently with his federal sentence.
A judge will hand down the final sentence after the investigation concludes. Prosecutors haven’t given indication of when that might be.
Marsh and other executives insisted the project to build the two reactors at the V.C. Summer site north of Columbia was on track ever since it started in 2008. The company hiked rates on customers nine times between 2009 and 2017 to help fund the project.
Prosecutors said that as the project lagged, Marsh lied repeatedly to investors, regulators and the media, claiming the reactors would be making power by a 2020 deadline to get $1.4 billion in federal tax credits needed to keep the $10 billion project from overwhelming SCANA and its subsidiary, South Carolina Electric & Gas.
An independent report commissioned by SCANA in 2015 estimated the reactors would not be finished in 22 years. Executives fought to get the estimate removed from the copy of the report shared with state-owned utility Santee Cooper, which held a 45% stake in the new reactors, prosecutors said.
Santee Cooper ended up $4 billion in debt from the project. Lawmakers are still arguing over whether to sell or reorganize the utility.
Dominion Energy of Virginia bought out SCANA in 2019 after the former Fortune 500 company was crippled by the nuclear debacle.
In December, the Securities and Exchange Commission said both SCANA and its subsidiary agreed to settle a civil lawsuit filed by the SEC in February for $137.5 million, including a $25 million civil penalty.
Former SCANA Executive Vice President Stephen Byrne pleaded guilty to federal charges similar to Marsh’s in July. He is also awaiting sentencing.