An out-of-state utility wants to buy SCANA and write $1,000 refund checks to the Cayce-based utility’s electric customers for a failed nuclear construction project.
But will that sweetener in Dominion Energy’s takeover bid — and a promise to cut SCANA subsidiary SCE&G’s electricity rates by $7 a month — be enough to appease S.C. lawmakers and the power customers they represent?
That remains to be seen.
Lawmakers Wednesday cautiously were optimistic about the $14.6 billion deal, which would see Virginia-based Dominion take over Cayce-based SCANA and its utility subsidiary, SCE&G.
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But many were unhappy that while Dominion said it will offer refunds to SCE&G’s customers, it still plans to continue charging those customers for two V.C. Summer station reactors that won’t be built.
Meanwhile, on social media and in website comment sections, some of SCE&G’s 700,000 electric customers rejoiced at the possibility of getting back $1.3 billion of the $1.8 billion that they have been charged in higher rates for the abandoned Fairfield County project.
Others wondered if $1,000 was too little.
S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster praised the refunds before saying the state-owned Santee Cooper utility, the junior partner in the V.C. Summer project, should be sold, too.
Senate Minority Leader Nikki Setzler, D-Lexington, called the partial refunds “a huge plus,” adding it is a feature not included in the $5-a-month rate cut SCE&G offered in November. That proposal angered S.C. lawmakers who said SCE&G should stop all future charges to customers for the abandoned V.C. Summer project.
Some lawmakers have the same objection to Dominion’s peace offering.
“I’m still having difficulty with customers continuing to pay for V.C. Summer,” said Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey, R-Edgefield. “Regardless of who the entity is, I think it’s a difficult sell to ask customers to continue paying anything toward V.C. Summer.”
State Rep. Russell Ott, D-Calhoun, tweeted: “Could someone please tell me what part of ‘customers shouldn’t continue paying for this failed project’ is hard to understand?”
S.C. Treasurer Curtis Loftis, a Republican, also expressed doubt. “Splashy numbers and golden promises may not satisfy the needs of South Carolina,” he wrote on Twitter.
“I dunno, $1000 would satisfy a couple of my bill needs, sir,” one commenter replied.
Critics called the $1,000 refunds a distraction from Dominion’s plan to continue charging SCE&G customers for the nuclear project. Dominion has said it would wind those charges down to $0 within 20 years. SCE&G had said that it would take up to 60 years to pay off the costs of the failed project.
The $1,000 refunds will pale in comparison to the higher rates that SCE&G customers will continue to pay for the nuclear project, said Lynn Teague, with the S.C. League of Women Voters.
“It’s not that much better than SCANA’s offer from before. Personally, I am less concerned about recovery of money from the past than I am about seeing long-term rate reductions,” she said. “That’s where rubber meets the road for not only long-term financial health for families, but also for whether businesses come here.”
Frank Knapp, president of the S.C. Small Business Chamber of Commerce, said the refunds aren’t enough. While Dominion said it would spend $1.3 billion on refunds to customers, SCE&G already has charged those customers $1.8 billion, a sum that grows by $37 million a month, he noted.
“The refund is nice,” said Knapp. “They thought this would be the shiny object that the consumers would look at and focus on that.
“But that $1,000 is not everything that they’ve paid in since 2009. Our goal is to claw back every penny that has been paid in.”