Several S.C. lawmakers said Friday the General Assembly should pass a new law to block SCE&G from charging its customers more for a failed nuclear project, even if move kills Dominion Energy’s deal to buy the troubled utility.
Virginia-based Dominion announced a $14.6 billion agreement Wednesday to buy SCE&G’s parent company, SCANA. As part of that deal, Dominion offered SCE&G’s customers $1.3 billion in refunds for money they already have paid for the failed nuclear project.
But lawmakers have grown increasingly skeptical of the deal – some comparing it to a payday loan – because Dominion plans to continue charging SCE&G customers for another 20 years to pay off the abandoned V.C. Summer nuclear reactors.
“I’m probably less favorable now than I was before, and I wasn’t real favorable before,” said Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey, R-Edgefield. “I still have a problem requiring customers to continue paying for V.C. Summer. Customers ought to be getting a better deal than that.”
Dominion said Friday it still is calculating the total amount that SCE&G customers would owe for the reactors over the 20-year span.
That figure will be a fraction of the $10.5 billion that SCANA had planned to charge its customers over the next 50 years, Dominion chief executive Tom Farrell told The State Thursday.
But some lawmakers say any amount is too high for the nuclear project, abandoned last July.
“The bottom line is that just because there’s a new name on the (power) bill, it shouldn’t change anything for us (legislators),” said state Rep. Russell Ott, D-Calhoun, vice chair of the House committee that investigated the nuclear project last fall.
Meanwhile, Wall Street investors seemingly grew more doubtful Friday that the Dominion buyout will happen.
SCANA’s stock price dropped to $45.02 a share at the close of trading Friday from $46.32 a share at the start of the day, well below the $55.35 a share that Dominion valued the deal at Wednesday.
If Dominion walks, so be it
Lawmakers said they appreciate several parts of Dominion’s offer, including:
▪ An immediate $1,000 refund to SCE&G customers, who currently are paying $27 a month for the abandoned Summer plant expansion. Those refunds would return $1.3 billion of the $1.8 billion that SCE&G customers have paid toward the project.
▪ A $7-a-month cut to electricity bills, slightly more than the $5-a-month cut SCE&G offered last November.
▪ And a pledge to not raise SCE&G’s electricity rates until at least January 2021.
Lawmakers also say they are happy to negotiate terms with Dominion.
But the Virginia-based utility says it needs the continuing nuclear-related charges to make the deal palatable for its shareholders.
If the utility pulls out because it can’t keep charging for the Summer plant, so be it, some lawmakers said Friday.
“We’ve got to stay focused on who we were trying to protect,” Ott said.
Last fall, the S.C. House introduced a host of nuclear proposals, including one that would block SCE&G’s future nuclear charges and others shaking up the state’s regulatory agencies.
The State House’s lower chamber is expected to consider those bills within the first two weeks of its new session, which begins Tuesday.
“That bill is coming. It’s going to be one of the first bills we take up,” said state Rep. Kirkman Finlay, R-Richland.
In a statement, S.C. House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, said House leadership “continues to review Dominion Energy’s offer and evaluate whether or not the proposal provides sufficient benefits for SCE&G ratepayers.”
Lucas had said Wednesday the deal offered an “interesting starting point” but that it needed more relief for SCE&G customers.
Efforts to reach Senate President Pro Tempore Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, for comment Friday were unsuccessful.