Duke confirms SC nuclear contact

 Investors approve, Duke shares higher in down market

Thursday afternoon, Duke Energy confirmed it had been contacted about taking a stake in South Carolina's state utility – Santee Cooper – so construction could restart on the V.C. Summer nuclear plant expansion abandoned last week after a decade of work. 
About the same time investors voiced their approval of the talks, pushing Duke's stock up 0.45% in a down market, although any talk just adds to the nuclear unknowns Duke is slated to discuss with North Carolina regulators later this mionth. 
Wednesday, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster and Santee Cooper said other power companies are considering buying all or part of the state-owned utility, with the governor saying his office is talking with Duke EnergySouthern Co. and Dominion Energy about buying possibly all of Santee Cooper. 
Southern and Dominion both declined to comment Wednesday. 
Thursday, as the market was closing, an email from Duke Energy spokeswoman Rita Sipes stated: 
Duke Energy was among the companies Gov. McMaster contacted in the wake of the V.C. Summer decision. Like everyone with a stake in the nuclear power industry, we are following these developments closely. We certainly appreciate Gov. McMaster's interest in finding solutions that work for the state of South Carolina. 

Already a big factor in South Carolina

Duke Energy is the Palmento State's largest utility with two units -- Duke Energy Carolinas and Duke Energy Progress -- serving 733,000 customers. SCANA's SCE&G has 698,000 customers. Santee Cooper serves 174,000 customers directly in addition to providing power to the state's 20 electric cooperatives. 
Duke operates eight nuclear reactors at four plants in South Carolina and three reactors at two plants in North Carolina. Last December, the NRC approved fifth South Carolina nuclear plant using AP 1000 reactors. 
In May, North Carolina regulators asked Duke Energy  to answer a number of questions about the proposed Lee Nuclear Plant in the wake of Westinghouse's  bankruptcy filing. Westinghouse designed the reactors Duke has planned to use for Lee. 
The NC Utilities Commission wants to know how thbankruptcy would impact Lee. It ordered Duke to respond by July 14. In early July Duke asked to put off making a response until Aug. 30.  
Shortly after commission chairman Ed Finley granted Duke’s request, Westinghouse officials said the company's reorganization plan would be delayed until late August (now a week or two away). 
For the first hour of trading Thursday, Duke's stock followed the market lower, reaching a low of $8578 before rebounding to a late high of $86.59 before closing at $86.39, up $0.19 or 0.22%, on below average volume. The gain limited the Dow Utilities decline to 0.61% while the Dow Industrials were down 0.93% or204.69 at 21,844.01.

Resuming the search for a Santee Cooper buyer

The effort to find buyers for Santee Cooper's Summer Nuclear stake has been going on for nearly a decade. 
In January 2014, the headlines said Duke Energy's purchase of an interest was imminent. Like other efforts, the deal fell apart. 
Before the March 2011 accident at Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant, Florida's big municipal utilities were seeking stakes in nuclear power plants. 
The Orlando Utilities Commission signed a letter of intent with Santee Cooper to discuss the purchase of 5% to 10% of the electricity from Santee Cooper’s interest in V.C. Summer in a transaction that included an option to acquire a portion of Santee Cooper’s interest. 
There has been no decision about the option or finances, spokeswoman Mollie Gore said, explaining the letter of intent sets up a framework for negotiations. 
In February 2011, JEA made the first of four $1,875,000 payments to Duke Energy Corp. for an option to purchase an interest in the Lee Nuclear. 
 Duke Energy told North Carolina regulators, JEA -- which provides power in Jacksonville and much of northeast Florida -- would pay $7.5 million for an option to purchase between 5% and 20% of the planned Lee Nuclear Plant. 
The utility also said it is seeking additional equity partners for the 2,234-mewagatt facility proposed for Cherokee County, S.C. 
The Lee Nuclear option was JEA’s second agreement gaining access to nuclear power. 
In 2008 it entered into a 20-year take-or-pay contract with the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia for 206 megawatts of electricity from MEAG’s share of the Vogtle 3 and 4 reactors then expected to begin operation in 2016 and 2017.  
--Jim Brumm