By Barney Blakeney
Last month the S.C. Public Service Commission approved the sale of SCANA Corporation (SCE&G) to Virgina-based Dominion Energy in a move that some hope will quiet the raging storm of contention unleashed in 2017 when the utilities company announced it would abandon construction of nuclear plants in Fairfield County. Left with the tab for the $9 billion investment were ratepayers. Hidden among the fees itemized on monthly bills, costs for the construction were passed on to consumers for years. Despite promises otherwise, the utility’s sale ultimately won’t change that.
SCANA and Santee-Cooper Electric Cooperative Inc., joint partners in the construction of the nuclear plant, got a pass from South Carolina’s general assembly when it approved legislation in 2007 that allows SCE&G to recoup its investment from ratepayers. After festering for months after the construction project’s abandonment amid ratepayer unrest and a year of legislative inaction, Dominion Energy stepped in with an offer to buy embattled SCANA Corp. It sweetened the deal with a promise of a $1,000 rebate to consumers.
Dominion’s initial deal offered: $1.3 billion in refunds to SCE&G customers based on their power use during the previous year after the deal is completed – the average refund expected to be $1,000; five percent electric rate reduction – an expected savings of $7 a month that still left SCE&G customers paying about $20 a month for the unfinished reactors; and $1.7 billion to absorb nuclear plant costs, which will lower the payback time for customers from 60 years to 20 years.
Although ratepayers won’t get checks as promised, Dominion says it will be providing customers significantly reduced bills instead. That decision was made based on support for lower bills throughout the year rather than the up-front rebate originally proposed. Overall, bills for electric customers have been significantly reduced (by approximately 15 percent in 2019 compared to January 2018) which will provide ongoing savings over the long term, Dominion says.
While some local legislators are challenging the current outcome of the SCANA fiasco, others are less resistant. House Dist. 111 Rep. Wendell Gilliard introduced a resolution to hold Dominion accountable for the $1,000 rebate. “We’ve been bamboozled. Eventually Dominion will ask for a rate increase,” he said.
Newer members to the legislature, Dist. 113 Rep. Marvin Pendarvis and Dist. 15 Rep JA Moore are less confrontational about the issue. Pendarvis, elected to the House in 2017, said since the public service commission already has approved the sale he has no strong feelings the legislature will push for the $1,000 rebate.
Moore said those responsible for the nuclear plant construction fiasco should be held accountable, but he thinks the process is moving in a positive direction. “A lot of people didn’t have their eye on the ball,” he said. Pendarvis added, “Voters need to stay involved.”