A South Carolina House committee organized after a decision to abandon construction on the V.C. Summer nuclear reactors in Fairfield County discussed Monday who should have oversight of the state’s utilities.
One of the suggestions that members of the Utility Ratepayer Protection Committee discussed Monday was a consumer advocate through the Office of Regulatory Staff.
“We need the skeptic in the room asking, ‘how does it impact the consumer and how do we keep it from negatively impacting the consumer?'” State Rep. Kirkman Finlay, III, R-Columbia, told the panel.
State Rep. James Smith, D-Columbia, said previous consumer advocates did not have the accountability that is necessary to protect customers.
“We need one that’s accountable to the people of South Carolina,” he said.
After deciding to draft legislation that would prevent customers from continuing to pay an 18% rate increase to cover the cost of the unfinished project, the committee shifted its focus to oversight.
Members outlined a plan that would select and qualify members to serve on the state commission which regulates power and other utilities in South Carolina. Committee Chair Peter McCoy, R-James Island, suggested the current Public Service Commission needs to be reformed. The discussion included who should appoint the commission members and what kind of authority it should be given.
“We do not have the opportunity to review the actions of the PSC,” said State Rep. Bill Sandifer, III, R-Seneca. “They cannot come in and testify before us.”
The seven commissioners are currently elected by the House and Senate, although their nominations must first be approved by a joint body known as the Public Utilities Review Committee (PURC). The House committee’s vice-chair Russell Ott, D-St. Matthews, suggested commission members should be able to make difficult decisions without fear of losing their positions — an issue which he said led to the lack of oversight on the V.C. Summer project.
“I don’t want there to be the perception that if they make a decision that the members of the PURC don’t like, then they are in jeopardy of losing their job,” he said. “I want them to be making independent decisions that are in the best interests of the ratepayers and the state of South Carolina.”
Given the ideas suggested in the meeting Monday, the committee staff will now develop proposed legislation that would prevent state utility customers from having to finance capital projects in the future.
“I think it’s the right thing to do, for this committee to give some guidance as to what we’re thinking in terms of the subcommittee level where this potential legislation will go next,” McCoy said.
McCoy said he’s confident the committee will have a bill to present to lawmakers when the session begins in January.