The 2007 state law that paved the way for SCE&G to raise its customers' bills nine times for two failed nuclear reactors clearly is unconstitutional, the S.C. Attorney General's office said for the first time in a court filing Friday.
"The Base Load Review Act is unconstitutional as applied to SCE&G ratepayers," said the attorney general's motion to state Circuit Court Judge John Hayes, who is presiding over a ratepayers' lawsuit against the Cayce-based utility.
The lawsuit, filed by ratepayer LeBrian Cleckley, says it is on behalf of 700,000-plus SCE&G ratepayers, who were forced to pay increasingly high electric bills over the last decade to finance two now-abandoned nuclear reactors in Fairfield County.
Last year, SCE&G, its parent company SCANA and Santee Cooper — partners in the V.C. Summer nuclear project — abandoned the construction project, citing soaring coats. However, SCE&G says the 2007 law allows it to continue to charge its customers for the unfinished reactors.
Prior to Friday, Wilson's lawyers had said only that the Base Load Review Act was "constitutionally suspect."
The Attorney General's Office is representing the state of South Carolina in the Cleckley case. Cleckley also named the state as a defendant in his suit, which also contends the Base Load Review Act is unconstitutional.
In its filing, the Attorney General's Office says the 2007 law is unconstitutional because it doesn't give ratepayers a fair opportunity to contest rate increases. As a result, the rate hikes amount to an unconstitutional "taking" of ratepayers' property, or money.
SCE&G rejects that argument.
Utility officials repeatedly have said the Base Load Review Act is legal, adding they will fight lawsuits arising from the failure of the nuclear project. SCE&G also has said the proper forum to air rate hike disputes is the S.C. Public Service Commission, not the courts.
So far, ratepayers collectively have paid roughly $2 billion in increased rates in connection with the abandoned nuclear project.
Currently, the nuclear-related charges cost a typical SCE&G residential customer about $27 a month. Those charges bring in about $456 million a year for the utility.
Some 20 lawsuits have been filed against SCE&G in state and federal courts over the nuclear debacle.
A federal grand jury, meeting in secret in Columbia, also is investigating the $9 billion-plus fiasco.