COLUMBIA, S.C. (CN) – A South Carolina judge on Tuesday gave preliminary approval to a $520 million settlement to refund customers whose power bills spiked as a result of Santee Cooper Utility’s shelved nuclear project.
Though many court proceedings across the country are stalled amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Judge Jean Toal gave the preliminary go-ahead to resolve a massive class action lawsuit that high ratepayers brought against Santee Cooper.
The class, which consists of more than 2 million private and commercial customers, claims the state-owned electric utility unlawfully hiked energy rates each month while a large-scale project to build two nuclear reactors at the V.C. Summer site in Fairfield County was underway.
In July 2017, Santee Cooper abandoned its minority stake as a junior partner in the project after the $4 billion in debt garnered by the initiative exceeded cost expectations.
The reactors were never completed.
The project was meant to reduce the carbon footprint of the state’s power facilities and was supported by the state of South Carolina and the federal government when it first began.
Chris Kolbe and Ruth Ann Keffer filed the lawsuit against the 86-year-old utility in August 2017 on behalf of the class of customers. They accuse Santee Cooper and other energy companies involved in the defunct project of mismanagement and of illegally hiking rates at least five times over the past decade.
South Carolina Electric & Gas, an electric company now owned by Dominion Energy, is also listed as a defendant in the underlying case.
Under the settlement Judge Toal approved Tuesday, Santee Cooper does not acknowledge any wrongdoing. It is also forbidden from raising rates for four years.
U.S. District Judge Terry Wooten had declined to take the case in January, sending it back to Toal’s court.
A final approval hearing will be held July 20.