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SCANA (NYSE:SCG)

Q1 2014 Earnings Call

April 24, 2014 3:00 pm ET

Executives

Byron W. Hinson - Director of Investor Relations

Jimmy E. Addison - Chief Financial Officer and Executive Vice President

Stephen A. Byrne - Executive Vice President, President of Generation & Transmission - South Carolina Electric & Gas Company and Chief Operating Officer of South Carolina Electric & Gas Company

Analysts

James D. von Riesemann - CRT Capital Group LLC, Research Division

Michael Weinstein

Travis Miller - Morningstar Inc., Research Division

Stephen Byrd - Morgan Stanley, Research Division

Ashar Khan

Andrew M. Weisel - Macquarie Research

Michael J. Lapides - Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Research Division

Paul Patterson - Glenrock Associates LLC

Neil Kalton - Wells Fargo Securities, LLC, Research Division

Dan Jenkins

David A. Paz - Wolfe Research, LLC

Operator

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for standing by. I will be your conference facilitator today. At this time, I would like to welcome everyone to the SCANA Corporation Conference Call. [Operator Instructions] As a reminder, this conference call is being recorded on Thursday, April 24, 2014. Anyone who does not consent to the taping may drop off the line.

At this time, I would like to turn the call over to Byron Hinson, Director of Financial Planning and Investor Relations.

Byron W. Hinson

Thank you, and welcome to our earnings conference call, including those who are joining us on the webcast. As you know, earlier today, we announced financial results for the first quarter of 2014.

Joining us on the call today are Jimmy Addison, SCANA's Chief Financial Officer; and Steve Byrne, Chief Operating Officer for SCE&G.

During the call, Jimmy will provide an overview of our financial results, economic development in our service territory and regulatory activity. Additionally, Steve will provide an update on our new nuclear project. After our comments, we will respond to your questions. The slides and the earnings release referred to on this call are available at scana.com.

Additionally, we post information related to our new nuclear project directly on our website at scana.com. On SCANA's home page, there's a yellow box containing a link to the new nuclear section of the website that contains a link to project news and updates. It is possible that some of the information that we will be posting from time to time may be deemed material information that has not otherwise become public. In connection with this process, we have discontinued our prior practice of furnishing our Form 8-K, the quarterly reports that SCE&G submits to the Public Service Commission of South Carolina and the South Carolina Office of Regulatory Staff for SCE&G's new nuclear project. Instead, the company now posts copies of these reports on the SCANA website.

In addition, I want to remind you that you can sign up under the Investor Relations section of scana.com for email alerts for financial press releases and operational announcements. You can now sign up for email alerts when there is a posting on the new nuclear yellow box.

Finally, before I turn the call over to Jimmy, I would like to remind you that certain statements that may be made during today's call are considered forward-looking statements and are subject to a number of risks and uncertainties, as shown on Slide 2. The company does not recognize an obligation to update any forward-looking statements. Additionally, we may disclose certain non-GAAP measures during this presentation, and the required Reg G information can be found on the Investor Relations section of our website.

I'll now turn the call over to Jimmy.

Jimmy E. Addison

Thanks, Byron, and thank you, all, for joining us today. I'll begin our earnings discussion on Slide 3. Basic earnings in the first quarter of 2014 were $1.37 per share compared to $1.13 per share in the same quarter of 2013. Our earnings in the first quarter are reflective of ending the electric weather normalization pilot in December 2013, as mentioned on the year-end call. The company's financials will now be impacted by abnormal weather in our electric business. Accordingly, the improved results in the first quarter are attributable to higher electric margins due primarily to the abnormally cold winter weather, a Base Load Review Act rate increase and customer growth along with higher gas margins. These higher margins were partially offset by expected increases in operations and maintenance expenses and CapEx-related items, including depreciation, property taxes and share dilution.

Now on Slide 4, I'd like to briefly review results for our principal lines of business. South Carolina Electric & Gas Company's first quarter 2014 earnings, denoted in blue, were up $0.21 compared to 2013, driven largely by higher electric margins due primarily to a benefit of $0.10 of abnormal weather, a Base Load Review Act rate increase and customer growth, as well as higher gas margins. These increases were partially offset by increases in O&M expenses, as well as expenses related to our capital program, including the property taxes, depreciation and share dilution.

PSNC's earnings for the first quarter of 2014, shown in red, were $0.24 per share, consistent with the first quarter of 2013. Increased margins from customer growth were offset by higher depreciation and share dilution.

SCANA Energy, our retail and natural gas marketing business in Georgia, in green, reported first quarter 2014 earnings of $0.16 per share, consistent with our first quarter of 2013. A benefit of $0.05 of incremental volume, due to abnormally cold weather during the quarter, was offset by higher commodity prices experienced in serving the incremental volumes and price competition.

SCANA's corporate and other businesses reported earnings of $0.08 per share in the first quarter of 2014 compared to $0.05 per share in the prior year.

I would like to touch on economic trends in our service territory on Slide 5. We continue to see new business growth and expansion of existing businesses. So far, in 2014, companies have announced plans to invest approximately $160 million with expectations of creating approximately 1,200 jobs in our Carolinas territories.

At the bottom of the slide, you can see that the national unemployment rate, along with the rates for our 3 states where SCANA has a presence and the SCE&G electric territory. While all these states continue to show marked improvement, the Carolinas are benefiting greatly from the industrial expansion. South Carolina's unemployment rate is now at 5.5%, and the rate in SCE&G's electric territory is estimated at 4.6%.

Slide 6 is an interesting slide I came across recently related to the real estate investment community. Based on their projections, over the next 20 years, 43% of the U.S. population growth will be concentrated in 10 strategic growth corridors. As you can see in the illustration, a couple of those main corridors run through the Carolinas and Georgia, passing through the geographic footprint of all of our major subsidiaries.

Slide 7 presents customer growth in electric sales. On the top of the slide are the customer growth rates for each of our regulated businesses. We continue to see strong customer growth in our businesses and in the region. SCE&G's electric and gas growth rates for the 12 months ended March 31 are 1.3% and 2.4%, respectively. Our regulated gas business in North Carolina added customers at a 2.3% rate.

The bottom table outlines our actual and weather-normalized kilowatt hour sales for the quarter and 12 months ended March 31, 2014. Overall, weather-normalized total retail sales were up 3.6% for the first quarter and 0.5% on a 12-month-ended basis.

Now please turn to Slide 8, which recaps our regulatory rate base and returns. The pie chart on the left presents the components of our regulated rate base of approximately $8.3 billion. As denoted in the 2 shades of blue, approximately 85% of this rate base is related to the electric business.

In the block on the top right, you will see SCE&G's base electric business, in which we're allowed a 10.25% return on equity. The earned return for the 12 months ended March 31, 2014, in the electric business is approximately 10.2%, well within our stated goal of earning a return of 9% or higher to prevent the need for non-BLRA-related base rate increases during the peak nuclear construction years. We're very pleased with the execution of our strategy.

Continuing down the page on our new nuclear business, we're allowed an 11% return on equity. In November of last year, the South Carolina PSC approved our request for revised rates under the BLRA, which added incremental CWIP of approximately $570 million to our rate base and increased rates just under 2.9%. As Steve will discuss shortly, we will be filing our new request for revised rates in May. Our regulated gas businesses in the Carolinas continued to perform well. We're allowed a return on equity of 10.6% and 10.25% in North and South Carolina, respectively, and we continue to operate these businesses close to those returns.

Along the bottom of the page is our regulatory schedule, exclusive of BLRA filings. These items are fairly routine annual filings.

Slide 9 presents our CapEx forecast. The CapEx at new nuclear reflects Westinghouse and CB&I's projected cash flow estimates, as adjusted by the company, supporting the current in-service ranges for Units 2 and 3. These estimates provide a preliminary high-level estimate of the cash flows. At the bottom is our anticipated incremental CWIP from July 1 through June 30 for each period on which the BLRA increase is calculated.

Slide 10 presents the estimated net change to the cash flows and incremental new nuclear CWIP. The incremental new nuclear CWIP is lower in 2014 than our previous estimate, driven by the delay in achieving certain construction milestones during the 12-month period. An example of the milestone delay is CA-20, which Steve will discuss in a few minutes.

Now please turn to Slide 11 to review our estimated financing plan through 2018. This slide is consistent with the forecast from our last call.

Now on Slide 12. We're reaffirming our earnings guidance at $3.45 to $3.65 per basic earnings per share, along with our internal target of $3.55 per share. Our long-term outlook remains unchanged as we plan to deliver 3% to 6% earnings growth over the next 3- to 5-year period.

I'll now turn the call over to Steve to provide an update on our nuclear project.

Stephen A. Byrne

Thanks, Jimmy. Please turn to Slide 13. As we have stated before, the company's current construction schedule indicates the in-service range for Unit 2 is between the fourth quarter of 2017 and the first quarter of 2018. This date is still within the Public Service Commission's 18-month scheduled contingency. The in-service date for Unit 3 will be roughly 12 months after Unit 2.

As the company noted in its last BLRA filing, the consortium is currently re-baselining the Unit 2 and Unit 3 consortium schedules to incorporate a more detailed evaluation of the engineering and procurement activities and to provide a detailed reassessment of the impact of the revised Units 2 and 3 schedules on engineering and design resource allocations, procurement schedules, construction work efficiencies and other items. Although we do not yet have a re-baselined schedule, we believe, based on discussions with the consortium, that the in-service dates for the new units will be within the 18-month PSC-allowed construction contingency.

I'll now provide a brief update to the on-hook dates for some of the structural modules. As I previously mentioned, the on-hook date is when fabrication of an assembled module at our V.C. Summer site will allow it to be placed on the hook of the Heavy Lift Derrick.

Module CA-20, seen on Slide 14, is an auxiliary building module that will be located outside and adjacent to the containment vessel. Finishing touches are taking place on this module inside of the Module Assembly Building and it is scheduled for on-hook date in May. This on-hook date was amended from Q1 2014 to May of 2014 earlier this month due to inclement weather from 2 ice storms, which closed the site for approximately 1 week; Chicago Bridge and Iron performance and production-related delays in the aligning and welding of submodules; and the incorporation of lessons learned from setting the same module at the Vogtle site a few weeks earlier.

Module CA-01, on Slide 15, is the steam generator and refueling canal module that will be located inside the containment vessel. Here, you can see a photo provided by Westinghouse of CA-01 at one of China sites. We're amending our anticipated on-hook date for this module from Q3 of 2014 to Q3 -- or Q4 2014. As with CA-20, we have modified the date to take this into account -- or to take into account the lost time due to the CB&I self-imposed stop work order at their Lake Charles facility that has now been lifted and CB&I performance and production-related experience. Submodules for CA-01 have started to arrive, and on-site fabrication on this module should begin shortly.

Module CA-03, on Slide 16, it's the southwest wall of the in-reactor water storage tank, located inside the containment vessel. Here, you can see a photo provided by Westinghouse of a portion of this module at a similar AP1000 plant being lifted for placement. The consortium have moved fabrication of this module to a facility in Florida from a facility in North Charleston, South Carolina. This module has an anticipated on-hook date of Q4 2014.

Unit 2 containment vessel Ring 2, shown on Slide 17, is the second ring of the containment vessel. This structure has a scheduled on-hook date of Q4 2014. The first ring of Unit 2 containment vessel, which I'll show you a picture of shortly, is scheduled to be placed during the second quarter of 2014.

On Slide 18, you can see a summary that outlines the on-hook dates for these 4 modules, as well as their current status. I'd now like to discuss some of the recent activities at the site.

Slide 19 presents an aerial view of the new nuclear site. In the center of the picture is the MAB or Module Assembly Building. Below the MAB, you can see Unit 2 and to the right is Unit 3, as well as the Heavy Lift Derrick.

We are making progress on low-profile cooling towers that you can see on the left side of this picture. I'll discuss the site in more detail shortly. But here, you can get a feel for the layout of the site, and you can see that things are really starting to take shape.

On Slide 20, you see a picture of the Unit 2 nuclear island. As previously mentioned, during 2013, we completed the over 50-hour continuous pour of the nuclear island basemat, also referred to as first nuclear concrete. Then using the Heavy Lift Derrick, we set the 500-ton CR-10 module on the basemat, as well as the containment vessel bottom head on the CR-10 module. 2 of the 3 courses of concrete that will allow setting of the first ring section have been placed below the bottom head and around CR-10. The containment vessel will house numerous reactor system components, such as the reactor vessel, piping, steam generators and the pressurizer. As you can see on the slide, work continues on the Unit 2 nuclear island with the walls taking shape, as well as components being placed in the auxiliary building and inside the containment vessel.

On Slide 21, along the top, you can see pictures showing the successful pouring of nuclear island basemat for Unit 3, which took place in November. This continuous pour took only 43 hours due to lessons learned on the Unit 2 pour. On the bottom left of the slide, you can see the finished product of that pour. Again, this basemat provides a foundation for the containment vessel, shield building and auxiliary building that make up the nuclear island for Unit 3. Construction of the CR-10 module on the Unit 3 nuclear island basemat that you can see on the bottom right of the slide is now complete.

On the top left of Slide 22, you can see a picture of the Unit 3 containment vessel bottom head. Similar to Unit 2, this bottom head will be placed on the nuclear island on top of the CR-10 module for Unit 3. On the top right of the same slide, you'll see some of the containment vessel rings. On the front left, you can see the beginnings of the first ring for Unit 3. Behind it, on the back left, you can see the second ring for Unit 2, which, as mentioned earlier, is scheduled to be on the hook in fourth quarter of 2014. On the back right, you can see the first ring for Unit 2.

On the bottom left, you can see cooling tower 2 Alpha and the Unit 2 circulating water pump house excavation. As mentioned during our last call, both cooling towers 2 Alpha and 3 Alpha are now structurally complete. All 4 of the low-profile forced draft cooling towers continue to progress as anticipated. The circulating water system pump house is used to move water from the cooling towers back to the condenser in the plant.

On the bottom right, you'll see a picture from inside the new water treatment facility. This facility will provide the site with potable water and filtered water.

On Slide 23, you can see a schematic of the turbine building. It illustrates how the various turbine building modules will look when completed. The modules that are highlighted in green have been placed in their final locations, with work continuing to progress for modules CH-82 and CH-81 Charlie.

On Slide 24, you can see a picture of the Unit 2 turbine building. Comparing the schematic from the previous slide, you can see all of the previously mentioned modules placed on the turbine building basemat, as well as the progress being made on CH-82.

On Slide 25, you will see a few of the components that have arrived on-site. On the top left, you can see a picture of the Unit 2 reactor vessel. This vessel is a thick metal clad with stainless steel and houses the fuel assemblies. On the top right, you'll see the Unit 2 auxiliary transformer. This transformer provides power for the Unit 2 station loads. On the bottom left, you'll see 1 of 2 moisture separator reheaters being lifted with the Heavy Lift Derrick. The moisture separator reheater takes steam coming out of the high-pressure turbine and superheats the steam before it enters the low-pressure turbines to ensure that it's all steam and no water. On the bottom right, you'll see the Unit 2 diesel generators. These generators are non-safety-related components that provide backup power for Unit 2.

On Slide 26, you'll see the new nuclear CapEx over the life of the construction. This chart shows the CWIP during the years 2008 to 2018 and reflects our preliminary estimates that are expected to be updated and filed in the first quarter BLRA filing in mid-May.

As you can see, the next several years are considered the peak nuclear construction period. The green line represents the related projected customer rate increases under the Base Load Review Act and are associated with the right-hand axis. As we stated during our last call, the incremental 5% future acquisition of the new nuclear project from Santee Cooper will not affect these projected BLRA increases.

Please now turn to Slide 27. We have 2 BLRA filings coming up in May. As mentioned earlier, in mid-May, we file our quarterly status update with the Public Service Commission. And on May 30, we will make our annual request for revised rates under the BLRA. Both of these filings will be made available for review in the new nuclear development yellow box in the Investor Relations section at scana.com.

On Slide 28, you'll see a breakout of the total new nuclear project costs. On the far right, you can see our preliminary estimate of project costs as of the first quarter of 2014. Project costs are down approximately $623 million from the original approval received from the Public Service Commission of South Carolina. As you can see, this change is largely attributable to lower escalation.

On Slide 29, you'll see a picture of Unit 1 at V.C. Summer station. On April 4, we took Unit 1 offline to begin a scheduled refueling outage. The outages occur at 18-month frequencies, and this is the 21st for V.C. Summer Unit 1, which began commercial operation in 1984. The refueling outage allows us to replace about 1/3 of V.C. Summer's 157 fuel assemblies, perform preventive maintenance work and make preemptive inspections and repairs. During this outage, we performed a planned inspection of the reactor vessel head. The reactor vessel head contains a total of 66 penetrations, which are mostly used to maneuver control rods in the reactor. As a result of this inspection, we identified wells for a few of these penetrations that need repair. An extensive robotic inspection of the vessel showed that there was no leakage from these areas as a result of the condition of the wells. This kind of maintenance is common over the life of the nuclear plant, and the work can be done in parallel with other preplanned plant improvements, so that there will be a minimum impact to the outage.

That concludes our prepared remarks. We'll now be glad to respond to any questions you might have.

Question-and-Answer Session

Operator

[Operator Instructions] Our first question will come from Jim von Riesemann of CRT Capital.

James D. von Riesemann - CRT Capital Group LLC, Research Division

Before we get into all the nuclear questions, maybe you could help me out with just some basic blocking- and tackling-type questions. It's really one question with 2 parts. So your '14 EPS guidance range was affirmed at the $3.45 to $3.65. But if I look at the trailing 12 months, you're at $3.65. Now I know you have BLRA revenues coming in, in '14. So how -- what keeps you within that stated range for '14? That's the first part of the question. The second part is, which I think is actually more important is, with your growth rate also being maintained at the 3% to 6%, and my numbers for '14 are obviously coming up, how should I think about comps going forward? So saying it differently, how will you -- or will you hit the 3% to 6% growth rate in 2015 off of a 2014 base, especially if that '14 base is above the original guidance range?

Jimmy E. Addison

Yes, Jim. So the first part, I would say -- again, as I said in the earlier comments, our prepared comments, $0.10 of Q1 was weather from the electric business. So that's the first time in 3 years we've had a weather impact in the electric business because we had to pilot weather normalization. So does that $0.10 sustain itself through the end of the calendar/fiscal year? Who knows? It was a cold first quarter, but frankly, it was about the same as Q1 of '13. It's just that we had the normalization in for the electric business in '13. So it took a quarter to generate that much excess weather in a very unusual winter. To give you an example, we had 17 days in March where the lows were in the 30s. Now I know I'm not going to get the sympathy from you in New York with those kind of temperatures, but that is very unusual in the southeast with that kind of weather. Whereas it took a quarter to generate that excess here, we could easily, if we had a mild July or August, all of that could erode. So it's a little early to start saying, "is that going to put you over the top end?" And as far the longer term, as you said, the more important question, we're still comfortable with that 3% to 6% for '14 based on the '13 base.

Operator

Our next question will come from Michael Weinstein of UBS.

Michael Weinstein

Could you talk a little bit more about the nonregulated gas company and the $0.05 offset in each direction and how that was been affected by the polar vortex?

Jimmy E. Addison

Yes. So in that market, SCANA and the broader market, a majority of the customers now are on fixed rates. And of course, we -- financially, we don't speculate on that. So we financially hedge those customers for the term of their contract based on normal weather. So when we have colder-than-normal weather, we've got to either provide that additional gas, if you will, from a financial standpoint from the spot market or from storage. And there is only so much you can do out of storage when you have that extreme weather. So when we bought the additional gas to serve those customers, that eliminated a great deal of the benefit from the actual additional sales.

Michael Weinstein

What drove the additional sales? Was that...

Jimmy E. Addison

Weather, all weather.

Michael Weinstein

Okay. Okay. So normally -- all right, if you didn't have...

Jimmy E. Addison

Yes. Sorry, I missed the first part of your question.

Michael Weinstein

So essentially, even though you're hedged or even though you got caught -- basically, I mean, like everybody else got caught short with fixed contracts in an extreme weather situation, it still wound up being a neutral effect.

Jimmy E. Addison

Yes. That's right, and we've had that situation before. And I would say, that's a -- I'm sure it could be slightly less, but I can't imagine it being a lot more extreme than that. So in -- on a real live, very extreme case, we're still on our plan for the year. So compared to 2013's first quarter, which was a normal weather quarter overall, where this one was abnormally cold, we ended up about the same point.

Michael Weinstein

Right. I guess, the thing that confuses me a little bit is that if -- more of a bad thing should be just bad, right? I mean, in other words, increased sales that are money-losing sales because they're unhedged should have just been negative.

Jimmy E. Addison

Well, that's only part of our customer base, right? So we got -- and we, SCANA Energy, as well as the whole market has another segment of the customers that are variable-price customers, that are repriced each month, so...

Michael Weinstein

Oh, that explains it. Okay.

Jimmy E. Addison

Right, right.

Michael Weinstein

Okay. All right. Got you. So the variable is positive, fixed is negative?

Jimmy E. Addison

That's right.

Michael Weinstein

That's the story. Okay. And also, on the nuclear part, just to ask one question there. Just seeing that the overall CapEx level is down negative and, I guess, about $32 million less. And is the reason for that just lower financing costs going forward because of the delay?

Jimmy E. Addison

Right. So that's $32 million less just in those first 3 years that are presented. If you look down on the recap box at the -- in the top half, we just tie it to the 3-year 10-K disclosures. So at the bottom, though, you'll see the full project disclosure. And you'll see it's actually slightly a net increase over that period because some of those milestone payments we'll be making later and, therefore, they incur a little more escalation. So you're only catching part of the picture with those first 3 years.

Michael Weinstein

I see. And that's why escalation is about $10 million less or there's a -- yes, like -- $10 million less under budget than before, right?

Jimmy E. Addison

That's right.

Operator

Our next question will come from Travis Miller of Morningstar.

Travis Miller - Morningstar Inc., Research Division

I was wondering, during some of these extreme cold weather events you had, maybe in hours or days, if you saw certain stresses in your system, either on the gas or the power side and how that might play into your thoughts about investment going forward.

Stephen A. Byrne

Travis, this is Steve. We did see some stresses on our generating system. I think it was January 7, we had -- which was unusual for us, we set a 24-hour energy peak. Generally, we're a summer-peaking utility. But it got cold enough down here that we actually set a peak, an all-time peak for 24 hours in the wintertime. So January 7 was a stressor for us, a stressor for a couple reasons. One, we had a couple of generating plants that were out. Given the high loads, all of our neighbors were also stressed, so the power available on the open market wasn't there. And then, of course, there were operational flow orders that would limit the gas that you could take to power plants coming out of the Gulf. And so we had both gas and electric supply issues during some of that cold weather. The second cold weather events, we didn't have any problems.

Travis Miller - Morningstar Inc., Research Division

Okay. More of macro kind of on that idea, would north to south pipeline flows, in terms of the gas side, would that have done anything? Would that have alleviated any problems, i.e., is there -- do you guys see value in reversing, essentially, some of those flows?

Stephen A. Byrne

Yes. From our perspective, as long as I could lock down more supply on the pipeline, then it would likely help me. But there wasn't anything to be had on the pipeline, as in the capacity of the pipeline was maxed out. So we were limited to what we had reserved on frontal [ph] capacity during those time frames. So what I would need is, it's not just the supply; it's the capacity.

Operator

Our next question will come from Stephen Byrd of Morgan Stanley.

Stephen Byrd - Morgan Stanley, Research Division

I wanted to check in on coal ash, and it's just been an issue that we think a lot about. Is there any movement in the state as you think about the potential treatment of storage facilities, et cetera? Is that something that's coming up?

Stephen A. Byrne

Well, what we've seen as a result of the Kingston Dam failure back in 2008 and then more recently, the Dan River failure, we have seen an increased interest in state regulators on any impoundments we would have, i.e. ash ponds. Now we -- because of facility retirements, we're down to only 2 locations that have ash ponds, and we have active plans to retire those. So for us, I think it's a pretty good news story. And we're actually ahead of schedule on emptying out some of the ash from those ponds. So where we can, we're sending it to beneficial reuse. So it's things like the cement industry, wallboard industry, those kinds of things. So while we've seen increased scrutiny, our plans have stood up to that test.

Stephen Byrd - Morgan Stanley, Research Division

Okay, great. Than just over on the solar side of things, I was just curious, the latest in terms of proposed solar legislation, how is that going? What's been the sort of range of reaction and what should we be looking for there?

Stephen A. Byrne

We have worked with other stakeholders in the state, including environmental groups and the other utilities to propose some legislation. We believe the legislation is a good way to enact solar that tries to learn some of the lessons from places, particularly on the West Coast, in Arizona, that have implemented without a good set of ground rules and have run into some problems. That legislation is not yet out of the legislature in South Carolina. If successful, we believe it will be a model for the industry. That said, we do have active plans to build solar. We're looking at a couple of utility-scale solar farms now, in addition to what we already have in our system, which is over 200 solar generators, the largest of which is on the roof of the Boeing facility down in Charleston.

Operator

Our next question will come from Ashar Khan of Visium.

Ashar Khan

Jimmy, can you -- I was looking through -- I'm sorry, I don't have this. When you came up with guidance earlier than the first quarter, what growth rate did you assume as part of the midpoint?

Jimmy E. Addison

Well, the growth for the $3.55?

Ashar Khan

That's correct.

Jimmy E. Addison

I think that off of actual '13, it was like 4.2%, something like that.

Ashar Khan

So you expect it...

Jimmy E. Addison

Low 4s.

Ashar Khan

Sorry?

Jimmy E. Addison

Low 4%, yes.

Ashar Khan

Low 4% growth rate in sales?

Jimmy E. Addison

Oh, I'm sorry. I was talking about earnings.

Ashar Khan

No, no. That's what I thought I was not hearing as well.

Jimmy E. Addison

No, and sales is actually slightly negative.

Ashar Khan

Okay. So you expected flat sales?

Jimmy E. Addison

Virtually. We actually had slightly negative that we disclosed on the year-end call. I think it's like 0.2% -- 0.2% to 0.5% negative. And obviously, we experienced the opposite in Q1, weather normalized sales back on that Chart #2 there. You'll see what...

Ashar Khan

Yes, that's what I'm trying to sort. So when you came up with guidance for '14, you had flat sales in the forecast?

Jimmy E. Addison

Yes, slightly negative.

Ashar Khan

Slightly negative. So then can you tell us based on 1% delta, if sales are higher by 1%, what that helps -- how does that help electric margin?

Jimmy E. Addison

Yes, I think, Ashar, I'm going from memory here. I don't have this in front of me. But I think like a 1% change in that is $0.02 to $0.03 per share.

Ashar Khan

$0.02 to $0.03 per share. So we have now like $0.04 -- 4%. So if this continues for the whole year, then it would be like a $0.12 positive delta? Is that fair?

Jimmy E. Addison

That's fair. That's a big if, though. We've got 2 consecutive quarters now of overall positive weather normalized usage, but we had 3 before that were negative. So I'm very optimistic at this point, but I'm not really ready to call it a trend yet.

Ashar Khan

Okay, okay, okay.

Jimmy E. Addison

I am encouraged -- when you pair that with the unemployment rates that we've presented earlier, I'm encouraged by it.

Ashar Khan

Right. I mean, that's what I'm trying to think through, whether -- what's kind of happening. You have some soft quarters and then things turn around, and they become really kind of positive and things like that, whether this is sustainable or not sustainable.

Jimmy E. Addison

Yes, and it's still an open question. But I would say, the last 3 years, we've spent a lot of time talking about economic announcements, and most of those announcements now have translated into payroll. And there's folks out working, everything from the anchor being Boeing, to the tire expansions, to Nephron Pharmaceuticals just down the street from us here opening. So a lot of these things are translating into jobs, which are translating into consumer confidence, and I think we're seeing that in our numbers.

Operator

Our next question will come from Andrew Weisel of Macquarie Capital.

Andrew M. Weisel - Macquarie Research

My first question is about the nuclear construction. On Page 13, you removed the expression, "We are confident in this range." So I'm just wondering if you could elaborate a bit more on sort of a maybe less commitment to the time schedule? And you mentioned that you'll have an updated schedule in the third quarter. What exactly is it that we're waiting for? And can you get any more specific as to what is going to happen in the third quarter?

Stephen A. Byrne

Yes, Andrew, what we're waiting for from the consortium, which is Chicago Bridge & Iron and Westinghouse, is based on the experience that they've had to date, factoring in the engineering schedule, the procurement schedule, their actual construction experience, worker efficiency, those kind of things, we want a new integrated project schedule. And then we hope that they will mitigate that to the extent that they can. And sometimes, what we put out is about the third quarter, we ought to have that from the consortium and have had time to look at it. And that really, from our perspective, will start the clock on our negotiations with them about what is a reasonable schedule and what's not a reasonable schedule. So while we remain confident in the plus-18 months that our Public Service Commission gives us from a contingency perspective, I don't know exactly today, until I get the information, the feedback back from the consortium, what it is that they're looking at.

Andrew M. Weisel - Macquarie Research

Okay. Now is that -- would you consider that more fine-tuning or is it more sort of taking a fresh set of eyes and maybe starting from scratch? Not starting from scratch, but starting -- could there be major revisions, I guess?

Stephen A. Byrne

Yes, I think it's both. I think that the Chicago Bridge & Iron team coming in was new taking over from Shaw. The folks that hung over from Shaw have now been replaced with CB&I folks. So our entire team at the site is new, and the entire leadership team up through CB&I is new to us. So we've got a new team in. There's been some turnover in the Westinghouse folks as well. So I would consider some of it refinements and some of it actual experiences as they receive submodules in, for example, and they have to get to welding them on the site, doing installation as they've done concrete pours, those kinds of things. They're learning a lot. And so some of the things that they plan on when they originally quote a project is worker efficiency. Now while I don't know what that worker efficiency was that they quoted us upfront, they've obviously got some time under their belts now to figure out whether that's realistic or unrealistic. And they've also had some time to look at their supply chain. And where components have shown up on time, they'll factor that in. If they've been late, they'll factor that in. And so what I expect to get from them is just a new estimate of completion. And by estimate, I mean, a schedule. But again, I still expect it to come within our contingency, but I don't know exactly where it's going to be. And I'm certain they'll come back and say, "But I might be able to improve that if you gave me just a little bit more." So that's what I mean when we say we'll start the discussion or the negotiation point, at that point when I get that schedule from them.

Andrew M. Weisel - Macquarie Research

Okay. And then as far as communicating that progress with us, is that something -- when you say third quarter, would that be like the next quarterly earnings call?

Stephen A. Byrne

The next quarterly earnings call will be a little early for that. It will probably be the call after that.

Andrew M. Weisel - Macquarie Research

Okay, great. Then the only other question I have on the more near-term stuff is, can remind us the plan for O&Ms for this year and maybe how you might adjust that in response to the strong start to the year?

Jimmy E. Addison

Yes, so the plan was generally around about a 3% increase in O&M. I think Q1, we're about 2%, so we're close to that plan. And some of the weather impact in Q1 caused us to delay some of our planned O&M spend. So there's some things that we were able to defer for a short period of time. In fact, with the kind of shoulder month weather we're having now, a lot of that is going on from plant maintenance to out on the T&D system. So I don't see a great deal of change in the O&M plan for the year at this point.

Operator

Our next question will come from Michael Lapides of Goldman Sachs.

Michael J. Lapides - Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Research Division

I have a mix of questions, Jimmy, for both you and Steve. One, a financing question. You've reduced, per Page 10, your new nuclear CapEx for the year, for 2014. But you didn't revise your financing data for 2014. Just curious, why not kind of move the financing along with kind of the timing of some of the new nuclear?

Jimmy E. Addison

Yes, a very fair question. And the answer really goes back to the one that Steve just answered about this Q3 re-baseline. I've said all along, there's no urgency to -- particularly on the equity side. The earliest we needed it was late this year. So if anything, this takes a little pressure off of that. But really, I would like to get more information on the whole re-baseline and that whole discussion with the consortium before we make any final decisions on that.

Michael J. Lapides - Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Research Division

Got it. And Steve, any insights at all -- I mean, the Chinese AP1000 project, Sanmen and Haiyang, are a couple of years ahead of both Vogtle and V.C. Summer in terms of the construction process. Just any insights or read across about whether those facilities in China look like they're going to come on time -- come online on time, on budget? Or whether there's any deviation of the project schedules for either of those 2?

Stephen A. Byrne

With respect to the budget, I don't think I have any clue. I don't know that they disclose budget information for the Chinese projects the same way that we do, so I just don't know. With respect to the schedule, they've been 2, 2.5 years ahead of us. I expect that to hold. So that would say that they are probably similarly delayed to us.

Michael J. Lapides - Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Research Division

Got it. And any -- one last one. And Jimmy, this is probably for you. In the regulatory items or regulatory highlights you mentioned down at the bottom of Page 8, the gas RSA filing, just curious given the earned returns in the gas business so far for the rolling 12 months, do you expect to file for gas base rate increases in either jurisdiction?

Jimmy E. Addison

No, not in this timeframe. And frankly, the way the mechanism works in South Carolina, if anything, there's a potential for a small decrease, but not material from a financial standpoint. But I think it's just reflective of the cost control we've had across the whole business has benefited the gas business too, along with the growth. I mean, the customer growth keeps coming with this -- with the build in the economy, while we've controlled costs along the way.

Michael J. Lapides - Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Research Division

And finally, we've seen your neighbor, Duke, talk about a need for incremental pipeline capacity into North Carolina. And just curious whether it's CGTC or at the holding company level, whether an opportunity exists for SCANA to either be an investor on a project like that or in a separate type of project? Whether there's even a need for incremental new gas pipeline to flow into your service territory?

Jimmy E. Addison

Yes, we've had an open season through our interstate company here very recently, and there's a lot of interest. But the way that works is, you go through that and mainly industrials express their preliminary interest. And then you've got to go through a sorting out process where you find out what's really a binding indication. And we're kind of in the middle of that now. We've not gotten to the binding part. So we'll have to see what comes out of that. I can tell you generally, the pipelines are full because of the price of gas being driven down by the shale gas. And there are a lot of industrial processes that would like to switch from other fuels to natural gas. And we got to sort out who's really serious about it now as opposed to who answered the first call. Having said that, I don't -- you're not going to see it be material to SCANA's overall earnings.

Michael J. Lapides - Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Research Division

Got it, you don't view it as -- there's not a significant rate base opportunity for SCANA on the interstate pipeline side?

Jimmy E. Addison

That's right, not to the SCANA level. And that will be significant to that subsidiary, but you're talking about a company with less than $200 million of rate base. So...

Operator

Our next question will come from Paul Patterson of Glenrock Associates.

Paul Patterson - Glenrock Associates LLC

Just really quick. Just a clarification on one of the questions, I think, Ashar was at. With the 1% -- sorry, the sales growth forecast, what are you guys forecasting now? I'm sorry to -- I didn't get it completely. What is your new sales -- retail sales forecast?

Jimmy E. Addison

Okay. Let me try this one more time. Pardon for not being clear earlier. We have not changed our forecast. We've got a strong quarter to report here in Q1, but our forecast is for about 0.5% decline in 2014 compared to 2013 actual. Obviously, completely different direction here in Q1. Maybe at some point during the year that translates to a different forecast, but we're just not at that point yet, Paul.

Paul Patterson - Glenrock Associates LLC

Okay. And then when we look at these rather strong numbers on a weather-adjusted basis, given the bag of the weather was so abnormal this quarter, does that give you any -- does that give you a little less confidence maybe in what these -- with the weather-adjustment calculation that you're doing? Or just -- does it give you any -- I mean, I know sometimes this is more of an art than a science. I'm just wondering, is that -- because the numbers do seem pretty high, just period. I mean, was there something else going on? I mean, 4%...

Jimmy E. Addison

Yes, I think that's a very fair question as well. So the thing that -- what I would say is, on a positive standpoint, we've had a couple of quarters in a row like this now. And Q4 was nowhere near as extreme as this was. I think it was fairly normal, the best I recall, from a weather standpoint. But to your question about, is carving out the weather effect an exact science, it absolutely is not. You got to make 2 major assumptions in that. And one is, how much of the customer load by class is non-weather sensitive and how much is weather sensitive? And then for the weather-sensitive part, how much is impacted by the extreme weather that was actually realized? So absolutely, it's modeled on an assumption basis. Is it precise? It's the best model we have. It's one that the industry obviously is challenged with when it's extremes like this. And that's another reason that I just don't get committed to trends based on 1 or 2 quarters.

Paul Patterson - Glenrock Associates LLC

Okay. when do you think that you guys might take another look at sort of your annual forecast, I mean, for guidance purposes?

Jimmy E. Addison

Well, for sure, each quarter. But in our business, Q3 is the big quarter. So Q2 is only about 15% of our annual operating plan from an earnings standpoint. So it's highly unlikely that we're going to come along at the end of Q2 and reassess our guidance at that point because so much of it is driven in the third quarter, just because of the cyclical nature, the heat in south.

Operator

[Operator Instructions] The next question will be a follow-up from Jim von Riesemann of CRT Capital.

James D. von Riesemann - CRT Capital Group LLC, Research Division

I wanted to follow-up on one of Michael Lapides' questions and just go off a little bit tangentially there. How are your coal stockpiles doing right now? And are you having any trouble with rail and transport getting any coal?

Stephen A. Byrne

Well, because we have shuttered a number of coal facilities, our situation is pretty good with the coal stockpiles. Now we're coming off a period where we had relatively high coal stockpiles, so perhaps not a big surprise. There have been some issues with delivery, particularly from rail, and we have the luxury of having port delivery available to us. And so we are looking into the possibility of receiving some shipments in through the Port of Charleston, and those go basically right to our Williams Station, so -- which is our largest single unit. So we will be offsetting some of what we may not be able to get via rail by ship receipts.

Operator

The next question will come from Neil Kalton of Wells Fargo Securities.

Neil Kalton - Wells Fargo Securities, LLC, Research Division

Just a quick question. You are off to a good start this year obviously with some things, maybe unusual, but with the weather-adjusted sales, if that sustains itself, you guys look like you're on target to do better than what you originally thought. So my question is, we see a lot of other companies, when this occurs, pull forward O&M expense and sort of use the cash in that sense. Would that be your intention possibly or would maybe a better path to sort of use the excess cash to invest in your infrastructure needs and reduce the equity that you need with the nuclear generation? So how do you think about that, I guess?

Jimmy E. Addison

Yes, Neil, I don't see a lot of variation in our O&M plan. We've been very disciplined about our O&M that's core to customer service and reliability. And for example, in the toughest times of the recession, we've maintained our vegetation management, trimming the trees. It helps us really keep good outage records with the customers. So we're not behind. So there's not a lot of bounce back or anything like that we need to do. Having said that, there's always some judgmental things that you can move around a little bit on timing of when you deal with them. But I don't see a huge variation in that. And of course, we've got plenty of capital need as you referenced there on our expansion with the new nuclear. And I would see us probably use it more for -- just to defray the needs for debt and equity as soon. I would just see it just kind of moving those things to the right maybe slightly. But honestly, Neil, I've been waiting 6 years to start having calls like these the last couple of quarters. We really see some confidence in the economy. It's been a tough run and I'm really encouraged by the economy. When you start looking at those unemployment rates back on that Slide 5, and you see that proxy that we build for our electric operating territory at just over 4.5%, I mean, you're getting down to functionally full employment there, and that's pretty exciting. It happens to be that the county -- our headquarters that's based in here has the lowest unemployment in the state, and we're excited about where we're headed.

Neil Kalton - Wells Fargo Securities, LLC, Research Division

It looks like very good news and hopefully, it sustains throughout the course of the year.

Jimmy E. Addison

Yes, I agree. Thank you.

Operator

Our next question will be a follow-up from Ashar Khan of Visium.

Ashar Khan

I think it's been kind of answered. My question was regarding the nuclear CapEx delays and the impact on equity. It's been answered.

Jimmy E. Addison

Thank you, Ashar.

Operator

Our next question will be a follow-up from Michael Weinstein of UBS.

Michael Weinstein

I just wanted to go back to Steven's question and just make sure that you guys are still -- that you are indeed confident you're still within the 18-month window. I think that was the thrust of his question. I heard you say confident. I just wanted to reiterate that though.

Stephen A. Byrne

Yes, we may have changed a word on the slide. I'm not sure about that. My review...

Michael Weinstein

But that wasn't intentional, right?

Stephen A. Byrne

Detail about that slide. But we -- based on our discussions with the consortium, we're still confident at this point in time in the staying within the PSC-allowed contingency, which is plus-18 months.

Michael Weinstein

But when you look at the Slide 13, and you see the green box that you guys put in there, that's unchanged from before. So you're -- I mean, since you are awaiting a baseline, would it be fair to say that, that green box no longer really applies anymore, that you're simply somewhere in that 18-month window at this point?

Stephen A. Byrne

Yes. Until I see something from the consortium that tells me I'm going to be outside of the box, remember that box was a band that was built around -- I think it was Q4 of '17 to Q1 of '18. And the consortium had been working to a schedule which was December of '17. So it's entirely possible that we could end up still within that green box. So until I find out that I'm not, I'm going to leave it where it is.

Operator

Our next question will come from Dan Jenkins of State of Wisconsin Investment Board.

Stephen A. Byrne

Dan, no sympathy from you either about the weather, right?

Dan Jenkins

No, no. So when we look at the projects on the nuclear plant that you have laid out on page -- Slide 18, are any of those contingent on the other items? So for example, does CA-01 have to happen before CA-03, or are they all kind of on parallel tracks?

Stephen A. Byrne

They're all being constructed on parallel track. But you are correct that CA-03 cannot be set until CA-01 is set. And then we need CA-01 in before I can get containment vessel Ring 2 in. And that really is a height limitation on even the world's largest Heavy Lift Derrick. I can't get over 2 ring sections, plus this very big module at the same time. So yes, you're correct that the CA-03 and the containment vessel Ring 2 are follow-ons to CA-01. So that's a very important one for us.

Operator

Our next question will be from David Paz of Wolfe Research.

David A. Paz - Wolfe Research, LLC

I just had a question. Your current guidance and growth rate, does that assume that bonus D&A is not extended beyond '13?

Jimmy E. Addison

That's correct. It assumes -- it's based on current law.

David A. Paz - Wolfe Research, LLC

Okay. Do you happen to know about how your growth rate would be impacted if it were extended, say, another year or 2?

Jimmy E. Addison

David, I don't see it materially impacting our growth rate. I mean, it's in the ballpark of $50 million to $75 million a year in cash. But I just don't see that material enough to impact growth rates of any significance. Again, that's kind of like the cash from the weather, right -- or, no, the cash from the economic growth. I mean, to me, it just allows you to push a little bit to the right on the planned debt and equity insurances.

David A. Paz - Wolfe Research, LLC

Got it. And your nuclear construction units aren't considered in service until they come online. I guess, just -- we'll keep thinking about them from a bonus depreciation law, if that were to be extended through your construction period, just how would that impact your ultimate rate base?

Jimmy E. Addison

Yes, no real impact on the nuclear side because you're exactly right, no depreciation there until they come online.

Operator

Our next question will be a follow-up from Michael Lapides of Goldman Sachs.

Michael J. Lapides - Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Research Division

Just wanted to follow up. This is the first earnings call after the ORS put out their April 1 piece on the project. And one of the things that kind of stands out is, some of their commentary about milestones. And they had the section that kind of talked about how, of the 51 remaining milestones, that like 88% of them have been delayed to some point, and that they've even had to notify the commission of some that have been delayed more than 10 months. Can you just talk a little bit about, a, are these milestones that can get things back on track? Or b, is this just all tied and all part of the bigger, hey, look, we've had some initial delays, albeit kind of minor measured in months or even just a quarter or 2, and that this will all get kind of wrapped up and resolved when you get the integrated project schedule in the next 6 or 9 months?

Stephen A. Byrne

I think the answer is that, when we originally laid out our case to build these plants, so you're going back to hearings we had in 2008, we were required to submit at that point in time a milestone schedule. That milestone schedule had in it a number of things that were fairly imprecise at that point in time. So we're talking about a project that was going to be built over 10 years, and we had to supply a milestone schedule that had 146, as I recall, milestones. I think 60% of which or more are completed now. So it was not unusual that some of those milestones would move around. Now what we're seeing in the milestones of the Office of Regulatory Staff is concerned with is that they put out a -- I guess it's a self-imposed 10 months where they would notify the Public Service Commission of anything over that 10 months. So there are a number of them that are over 10 months. What we're concerned with is the plus-18 months, because we are considered within our schedule as long as we're within 18 months. Now there are a couple that are challenging the 18 months. One of them, I think, is that CA-03 set. So -- and a lot of things are dependent on how things go with the modules. So we continue to come back to -- even some of these milestone issues are a function of what goes on with the modules. So as long as the consortium hits their module dates, I think we should be within the 18-month contingency on all of them. That being said, there are still some challenges that we have outlined in our BLRA quarterly reports. And a couple of those are things like, reactor cooling pumps, squib valves. And while there are plans that are currently being worked to recover those schedules, we need to see them come to fruition before we would say that we're good on those yet. So there are some things that may challenge the 18 months, but I don't think any of the ones that are challenging that 18 months are really going to be impacting on the in-service dates for the units.

Michael J. Lapides - Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Research Division

Okay. And big-picture question, I hadn't really asked this. What happens if the 18 month slips? Meaning, what -- from a regulatory perspective, if the 18 -- if you go beyond the 18-month timeline, what's the process from there?

Stephen A. Byrne

Well, we would file for basically a schedule re-baseline with the Public Service Commission, which would be a full hearing process. And we would outlay what the reason is for delay. Intervenors would have an opportunity to challenge us. And we would go before the commission to say that we want to schedule re-baseline if we go over any of those milestones.

Jimmy E. Addison

And Michael, we've done that twice before, not because of exceeding the 18 months, but because of the original contingency being removed by the Supreme Court decision. We went through that process twice already for cost items that would have gone against the contingency. And the commission has endorsed those. And each time they did that, they changed the schedule for the latest information at that time. So it would be the same process again.

Michael J. Lapides - Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Research Division

And as I understand that process, when the courts may go and take contingency out of the initial project, approved project budget, that it wasn't really what you'd call a contentious process. I mean, the commission kind of looked at it and said, "Understood," and kind of things change around a little bit and kind of, "Let's go from there."

Stephen A. Byrne

Remember, when the original Base Load Review Act was approved, it was February of 2009, it had entered a contingency fund. And what was challenged to the Supreme Court was not that we would never have to use contingency. What they didn't like was the fact that it was preapproved enough to us as to where we spend it. And there point was, we ought to be held accountable for the contingency and have to come back and ask for more when we run into contingency items. And that's really what the Supreme Court said. And so as -- we've done that now twice and the Public Service Commission has approved those each time.

Michael J. Lapides - Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Research Division

Okay. And can you refresh, what was that contingency amount originally? So if they were -- if CBI comes back in their delays or you're beyond the 18 months, or just, I don't know, stuff happens. It's a big project. I'm just trying to think about how -- if I were a commissioner, I approved the project at x. But because of a court decision, it's really x minus something. And then if you come back say, "Hey, look, I kind of need some of that minus," it's still not that much above what I had originally thought of as the project cost.

Stephen A. Byrne

Yes, the original contingency number I believe was $438 million. Now remember, that's our -- that was for our 55% share.

Operator

Ladies and gentlemen, that will conclude our question-and-answer session. I would like to turn the conference back over to Jimmy Addison for his closing remarks.

Jimmy E. Addison

Well, thank you. And to summarize, we're off to a good start in 2014. The weather comes and goes, but I'm particularly encouraged by the economic indicators, especially unemployment rates and the apparent consumer confidence. We remain on track to meet our internal earnings targets and our new nuclear construction continues to progress. And finally, I want to mention our upcoming Analyst Day event to be held in New York on June 4. And please mark your calendars and plan to attend either in person or via the Internet. And thank you for joining us today, and we appreciate your interest in SCANA.

Operator

Ladies and gentlemen, the conference has now concluded. We thank you for attending today's presentation. You may now disconnect.

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