Utility Customers Off The Hook

Legislators working on bill

October 31, 2017 - 10:18 am

OCTOBER 30, 2017 BY RENEE SEXTON (South Carolina Radio Network)

South Carolina legislators have a plan for preventing utility customers from paying for continued costs on the failed V.C. Summer nuclear reactors in Fairfield County.

The House Utility Ratepayer Protection Committee voted unanimously Monday to have attorneys write a bill that would address three urgent issues related to the V.C. Summer debacle: prevent an 18% rate increase for South Carolina Electric and Gas (SCE&G) customers to finance the failed project, protect the customers from having to pay for debt or costs related to the project, and set an interim rate while lawsuits are settled.

“I’m confident we have the authority to set rates and we ought to set a rate — an interim rate, if you will — a rate that we’ll set that will be the rate while the litigation is going on. And I think to do this properly it will take several bills, not just a single piece of legislation,” said State Rep. James Smith, R-Columbia.

He was one of more than a dozen committee members who said utility customers should not have to pay to build a nuclear power plant that will not provide them with power. 

“I think it’s important for all of our constituents, everyone who pays a rate, who pays a power bill, that they know what they’re paying in generation, they know what they’re paying in transmission, and that there is a clear understanding of what is being paid,” he said. “Other states do this and require it.”

Committee Chair Rep. Peter McCoy, R–James Island, calls the abandoned reactors “a project that was borne from deception.”

“The 18% issue, to me, is a must-have, or absolute must-have for any legislation that we create from this committee or move forward from this committee,” he said.

Vice-Chair Russell Ott, D-St. Matthews, said the committee’s first priority should be to block the 18% rate increase the company is asking for to cover construction costs.

“So I implore us to move with as much expediency as we possibly can to put this action in place to continue to try to get this 18% off of the bills,” he says.

Attorneys for the committee say the legislature has the constitutional right to set temporary utility rates until current lawsuits involving SCE&G and Santee Cooper can be resolved.

“There is no intent to make a business go out of business,” Ott said. “We are responding to a crisis. We are trying to mitigate a disaster to the best of our ability. We’re not trying to take punitive actions against anyone. “

The committee anticipates quick action to have a bill ready when the legislature convenes in January.

SCANA and Santee Cooper decided in July to abandon completion of the V.C. Summer reactors. SCE&G had filed a request asking the state public utilities commission to allow its share of construction debt to be paid partially by customers. However, they withdrew their request until legislators could investigate what happened.

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