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Judge approves $520M settlement in Santee Cooper lawsuit

March 17, 2020 GMT

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A South Carolina judge gave preliminary approval Tuesday to a $520 million settlement that would provide refunds to Santee Cooper Utility customers who were charged increased rates for a failed nuclear construction project.

Judge Jean Toal gave an initial approval to the settlement Tuesday, a big first step to ending a long-standing dispute between Santee Cooper and its customers, who filed a class-action lawsuit against the state-owned utility, news outlets reported.

The project racked up $4 billion in debt before Santee Cooper pulled out of its minority stake in the V.C. Summer nuclear expansion in July 2017.

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Since the project started more than a decade ago, Santee Cooper increased rates five times to fund the expensive project to build two nuclear powered electric generators in Jenkinsville, about 25 miles (40 kilometers) northwest of Columbia. Santee Cooper was the junior partner on the project with the now former Cayce-based SCE&G, which was acquired by Dominion Energy in January 2019.

After spending billions on the project, Santee Cooper and SCE&G shut down the project before any power was generated because of rapidly escalating costs.

The preliminary settlement would refund some power costs paid by Santee Cooper customers and about 2 million South Carolina residents who get their power from electric cooperatives that use the utility’s energy.

Santee Cooper also could not raise electric rates for four years..

The state Legislature is currently trying to decide whether it should reform Santee Cooper or sell it.

A final approval hearing is scheduled for July 20.