South Carolina senators voted Thursday to push back the deadline for the state’s utility commission to rule whether Virginia-based Dominion Energy can buy Lexington County-based utility SCANA.
Meanwhile, the House voted around the same time on a separate proposal that could entirely replace the regulators who would make the decision.
State Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, said his chamber’s actions will buy some time. “The purpose of this is we want to make sure that the parties that do have to make the decision are informed with all the facts,” he said on the Senate floor. “And aren’t going to be surprised after the fact that they did something they didn’t know about.”
The proposal sent to the House would delay until December a ruling by the state’s Public Service Commission on whether Dominion can acquire SCANA.
Lawmakers want that decision delayed because, should the PSC approve the Dominion deal, it would set what South Carolina Electric & Gas’ (SCE&G), a SCANA subsidiary, power customers must continue to pay for the abandoned VC Summer nuclear expansion in Fairfield County.
“All we’re doing is setting a timetable and framework… to give them time,” Hutto said.
Meanwhile, the 108-1 House vote will head to the Senate after another procedural vote next week.
State Rep. Gary Clary said the proposed law would require legislators elect three of the board’s seven commissioners this year and replace the remaining commissioners in 2019. It would also require commissioners pay their own way or receive reimbursements to attend conferences or education sessions, ending the practice of utilities paying for commissioners’ travel to their conferences.
“It’s not going to prevent commissioners from going to these conferences and learning about things,” State Rep. Gary Clary, R-Clemson, said. “But they’re going to be doing it on their dime more so than on the utility’s dime.”
SCANA and partner state-owned utility Santee Cooper pulled the plug on the reactor expansion at the VC Summer plant in July of last year after its lead contractor filed for bankruptcy protection.
Legislators have criticized the PSC for missing warning signs on the V.C. Summer project. The commission approved SCE&G rate hikes to pay for construction nine times since 2007, including after costs began to spiral out of control for the utility.
However, State Rep. Jonathan Hill, R-Townville, argued legislators have made the PSC their “scapegoat” because commissioners enforced the nuclear-friendly law the General Assembly passed to build the reactors. “You can say that they made a bad decision, but I guarantee if you were there in their shoes I guarantee you would have made the same decisions given the facts you were given,” he said before Thursday’s vote. “So let’s let responsibility lie where it belongs… with us.”