A state Public Service Commission member has resigned her post as the utility oversight board prepares to consider whether SCE&G customers should get their money back for a failed nuclear project.
Nikiya “Nikki” Hall, a commissioner since 2010, said she is leaving to take a job with Pepco, a utility in the Washington, D.C., area, where she will be director of regulatory strategy and services. She was paid $107,000 as a PSC member.
Hall’s resignation leaves the seven-person PSC one member short while it weighs some of the most controversial and potentially difficult cases it has heard in years. Those cases center on SCE&G’s bungled V.C. Summer nuclear expansion project in Fairfield County. The company charged its ratepayers $1.7 billion to pay for that project before abandoning construction July 31.
Two cases before the PSC seek to recover money for ratepayers. Hearings related to those requests are scheduled later this month and in December.
Hall, who was not available to comment, did not mention the pending nuclear issues when she announced her departure at an Oct. 25 PSC meeting in Columbia.
“I’ve made this decision to take on this wonderful opportunity that I just couldn’t refuse,’’ Hall said in a transcript of the meeting. “ I should be so lucky to find colleagues (in Washington) of similar integrity and kindness.’’
Gov. Henry McMaster has a candidate in mind to replace Hall and may announce his choice as early as next week, spokesman Brian Symmes said. State law allows the governor to pick a replacement if the Legislature is out of session. That person would serve until the Legislature votes on a new, full-time commissioner.
It’s unknown when elections will be held because a committee that screens PSC candidates has postponed its reviews in the aftermath of the nuclear crisis. Among the seats to be filled is the one Hall vacated.
“The PSC is an important part of what we’ve got going on with the nuclear energy situation in South Carolina, and any voice on the PSC that is going to ask the tough questions, the governor thinks that is necessary,’’ Symmes said.
State Rep. James Smith, a Democratic candidate for governor, said he supports McMaster naming a replacement.
“We have some of the most important decisions to be made by the PSC in many years ahead,’’ Smith said. “Having a full commission there is, I believe, important for the ratepayers of our state.’’
Friends of the Earth adviser Tom Clements, whose organization has asked the PSC to give ratepayers back their money for the failed nuclear project, said McMaster should fill the vacancy with someone interested in looking out for the public interest. Clements says the PSC has been too willing to side with utilities, particularly on decisions that allowed SCE&G to charge its customers for the reactor project.
McMaster “really could try to beef up the (commission) by putting someone on there who is really going to ask tough questions,’’ Clements said.
Hall, who represented the state’s 6th District in Congress on the PSC, is an attorney who formerly was a prosecutor in the Columbia area. With the PSC, she was on a committee of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners.