Columbia, SC (WLTX) - State lawmakers have finally passed bills that address the abandonment of construction of two nuclear reactors at the VC Summer Nuclear Plant in Jenkinsville, including a bill that will lowers the rates of SCE&G customers.
On Wednesday morning, a conference committee met to discuss the two bills before them, S. 954 and H. 4375. The committee was made up of Senators Nikki Setlzer, Shane Massey and Luke Rankin, as well as Representatives Peter McCoy, Todd Rutherford and Kirkman Finlay.
S.954 was a joint resolution by the senate that requires the Public Service Commission to wait until December 21, 2018 before any decision is made on what's to come with the abandonment of construction at VC Summer by SCANA.
H. 4375 repeals the Base Load Review Act, which is the law that allows utility companies to raise rates during a big project. It also defines the words "imprudent" and "prudent", something the PSC has dealt with throughout the rate increases requested by SCE&G.
The bill will also create an experimental nuclear rate of 3.19 percent. Originally, Representatives wanted to get rid of the entire 18 percent nuclear rate, but they agreed to remove 15 percent.
However, Governor Henry McMaster has said in the past that he will veto any bill that doesn't cut the full 18 percent out of customer bills.
"We set this up in such a way that we are confident that our rate is going to hold up," says Senator Shane Massey, R-Edgefield. "We looked a lot at the constitutional opinions dealing with rate making, we looked at the financial analysis. We think that we are on solid ground."
The bill also gave subpoena power to the Office of Regulator Staff (ORS). Originally the ORS was not able to see confidential documents from SCANA.
"We started in August having committee meetings, taking testimony, talking to witnesses, learning more about the information and confidential documents that have been hidden and contained within the utilities that they did not want to be made public," says Representative Peter McCoy, R-Charleston. "So the goal for both bodies is to provide quick relief to rate payers."
There was some push back about the experimental rate from Senator Brad Hutto, who said there was a gamble with the Dominion Energy/SCANA merger. Dominion Energy has said that they will pull out of the deal if rates are cut.
However, both the Senate and House passed the bills, which will now head to the Governor's desk. If signed, they will go into effect immediately. The experimental rate reduction will last until December 21st, then the PSC is expected to create a new permanent rate moving forward.
In a statement, SCE&G and SCANA says they are looking at their options, and say they believe the measure is unconstitutional. Dominion Energy said the move could cause problems with their proposal to compensate customers if their merger with SCANA goes through.
“The South Carolina Legislature is playing a high-stakes game where they are gambling with the money of customers and taxpayers. Legislators are risking cash payments to SCE&G’s electric customers of $1.3 billion – equal to $1,000 for the typical residential customer – and a permanent rate reduction of 7 percent. They are jeopardizing total customer benefits of more than $12 billion and another $19 billion in economic activity. And, they are promoting continued turmoil for South Carolina’s energy and business future. All of this for a few headlines and a temporary rate reduction that has good odds of being overturned in court. It is a disappointing and short-sighted action that is counter to the best interests of South Carolina and its people.”