South Carolina regulators signed off Friday on SCANA’s merger with Virginia-based Dominion Energy.
The Public Service Commission approved Dominion’s offer to buy the utility holding company, which faces significant financial hurdles in the aftermath of an abandoned nuclear construction project last year.
“(The approved motion) will not completely satisfy the concerns of everyone with an interest in this case,” PSC vice-chairman Elliott Elam said. “However, I believe it has enormous value for all SCE&G ratepayers, stakeholders and the state as a whole.”
Protestors briefly disrupted Friday’s meeting just as Elam moved to approve Dominion’s offer. The eight protestors unveiled several handmade signs and chanted “Dominion buyout, more of the same. We want solar for a change” as they circled the room for several seconds.
The commission stopped its meeting for about 10 minutes until the protesters could be shepherded out of the room.
PSC’s approval would essentially keep rates at the current reduced level for ratepayers of SCANA’s power utility South Carolina Electric & Gas. Legislators this summer mandated the company cut its rates by 15 percent to eliminate nuclear-related expenses after 2010. Lawmakers felt the company was not prudent in how it managed the VC Summer nuclear expansion after that date.
Ironically, SCE&G had sued to stop the reduced rates (roughly $22 less for the average residential customer) claiming the legislature unconstitutionally changed how the utility could recover nuclear debt after it had already sunk $5 billion into the ill-fated V.C. Summer expansion. The lower rates would mean SCE&G customers would end up paying $2.3 billion over the next 20 years towards the project’s debt.
Dominion eventually offered to keep the lower rates as a condition for the merger’s approval. The company instead dropped its initial offer of an average $1,000 payout to SCE&G ratepayers, which it had proposed earlier this year in exchange for keeping the higher rates intact.
The utility watchdog agency Office of Regulatory Staff “We appreciate the consideration the Public Service Commission has given to this extraordinarily complex issue. The Commissioners had a difficult decision to make.
The approval requires Dominion continue to pay SCANA employees through at least July 2020 and place a SCANA representative on its company board. It would also require the company keep corporate offices in South Carolina unless otherwise approved by the PSC.