As South Carolina state senators gathered for the first day of the legislative session, the major issue discussed was last week’s announcement of the proposed merger between energy holding company SCANA and Virginia-based Dominion Energy.
Since SCANA’s utility SCE&G and its state-owned partner Santee Cooper announced in July they would abandon construction on the V.C. Summer nuclear reactors in Fairfield County, a special committee has been working on legislation related to the failure. Several measures are designed to protect ratepayers from continuing to pay for financing on a project that will never be operational.
The merger proposal includes a potential refund equaling the $1.3 billion that ratepayers have already seen their bills go towards construction. The refund would average out to roughly $1,000 for the average residential customer. However, the proposal would still involve customers continuing to be billed for the next 20 years to pay off the project’s debt.
“Telling customers that they’re going to get a $1,000 refund and have their bills lowered is pretty appealing,” State Sen. Shane Massey, R-Edgefield, told the chamber. “And, if you don’t know what all is behind it, that’s a very appealing offer. But I promise you there’s a lot more to it than that.”
Massey encouraged his fellow senators to gather all the information they could before making a decision.
“This is going to be a hugely-lobbied effort,” he said. “There are a lot of lobbyists that are going to be involved in this. You’re going to get a lot of information about it. My request is that you not make a decision on anything until you’ve had the opportunity to hear a lot more. Listen to everybody. But don’t make a decision yet.”
Senate President Pro Tempore Hugh Leatherman decided to reconvene the special committee to review the details of the SCE&G and Dominion merger and gather the information necessary should the issue come to a vote.
“We’re going to try to publicize those meetings and so those people who are not on the committee can come and listen and be part of that because I think that’s very important that everybody learn as much about this as possible,” Massey said.
Meanwhile, the House plans to reconvene its own Utility Ratepayer Protection Committee. Speaker Jay Lucas said in a statement Tuesday:
“The House has continued to monitor the recent developments surrounding the VC Summer nuclear fallout since our ratepayer protection package was prepared in December. Comments made today in the Senate illustrate an inability to comprehend that our thoughtful approach remains the top priority of this legislative session. House leadership believes the House Utility Ratepayer Protection Committee should continue to thoroughly investigate the moving parts of this complex issue to ensure millions of South Carolina ratepayers receive the protections they deserve. As a result, Representatives McCoy and Ott are fully prepared to bring the committee back in short order to address ratepayer concerns.”
Meanwhile, Senator Mike Fanning, D-Fairfield, said his county is feeling the effects from the pullout of the utilities on the project. The county is losing millions in tax revenues from the abandoned site.
“Fairfield County is suffering,” he said. “We have the highest unemployment rate in the state. While we wait, this abandoment is killing our county’s property tax base.”