A South Carolina House subcommittee voted Tuesday to pass along several bills designed to address issues related to the decision to give up on the V.C. Summer nuclear site in Jenkinsville.
One bill repeals portions of the Base Load Review Act and would require the project’s owner South Carolina Electric & Gas to pay for all costs related to its failure, remove an 18 percent charge from customers’ bills that would have continued to pay for expenses related to the project, and sets an interim rate while litigation is pending.
“We don’t know what (SCE&G’s parent company) SCANA and SCE&G attorneys will do once the law is passed,” said State Rep. Peter McCoy, R-Charleston.
Representatives from the League of Women Voters, AARP and several environmental groups testified at the hearing. Most gave their approval to the proposals and offered suggestions.
Another bill discussed would establish a consumer advocate under the Office of Regulatory Staff and provide the office with subpoena power. According to McCoy, it would “make the commission work in favor of the ratepayer . . . acting in the public interest is exactly what this bill should be doing.” ORS Director Dukes Scott has insisted SCE&G would not provide documents he requested as it sought rate increases on customers.
Legislators also discussed a bill that restructures the Public Service Authority, which oversees state-owned Santee Cooper. It would require the state Public Service Commission approve any Santee Cooper rate hikes as it does private utilities. But interim President and CEO James Brogdan told the subcommittee the proposed law could affect the utility’s credit and bond ratings, if it is approved.
“I understand your desire for more opportunity for public involvement and oversight, but, again, not that the financial advisors’ concern over putting Santee Cooper under the Public Service Commission could affect our credit rating and result in negative impacts to our customers,” Brogdan said.
Lower bond and credit ratings mean Santee Cooper would have to pay more to borrow money, which Brogdan said could cost customers. Brogdan told the committee that prior to the July announcement that Santee Cooper and SCE&G were abandoning construction on the nuclear reactors, Santee Cooper’s bond rating was considered “unstable” due to the expenses associated with the project.
“When we suspended construction, two of three rating agencies put us back on a stable outlook,” he said.
Brogdan said the utility will not be returning money to customers.
“The only relief we can provide is through making sure we’re holding costs down so that as we move forward over the next 10 years, if you want to look that far, that our rates are fairly stable and aren’t peaking,” he said. And he reiterated the utility does not plan any rate increases in the next two years.
“At least for the next two years, possibly the next three years,” he said. “Again, based on the assumptions that we have included in our budget process there’s no rate increase. And after that, obviously again, our intent is to hold down costs.”
The changes and recommendations will be reviewed by legislative staff before the bills go to the full committee.