Dominion Energy’s buyout of troubled SCANA could be delayed until early 2019 — if it happens at all.
That’s because a state Senate panel on Wednesday approved a proposal to block a state commission from approving the proposed acquisition – or acting on any other cases related to South Carolina’s nuclear fiasco – until three months after the Legislature officially adjourns for the year in November.
That could bar the PSC from acting until February 2019.
The proposal was drafted last week by three Senate leaders. They say legislators need more time to evaluate their options after SCANA and the state-owned Santee Cooper utility abandoned a $9 billion nuclear construction project in Fairfield County last July.
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The proposal advanced Wednesday despite concerns by SCANA and a state senator. It could be voted on by the full Senate as early as Thursday.
“Right now, we’ve got a gun to our head on the time frame,” said Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey, R-Edgefield, noting the Public Service Commission’s existing July deadline either to accept or reject the Dominion buyout. That deal includes cash refunds of $1,000 to SCANA customers who have paid about $1,400 over the past decade for the failed project.
Massey said he is concerned if the PSC approves the Dominion deal, it would mean customers of SCANA’s electric subsidiary, SCE&G, would have to pay roughly $2.8 billion over the next 20 years for two unfinished nuclear reactors.
Lawmakers, he added, need more time to determine the legal and financial consequences of their actions.
For example, at some point, the Senate is expected to consider the House’s proposal to temporarily block SCE&G from continuing to charge its customers about $37 million a month for the nuclear project.
That move could lead Dominion to withdraw its buyout offer, which the Virginia-based power company has said is contingent on continuing to charge those customers. Also, SCE&G has warned the House bill could devastate its finances. It has threatened to sue if it becomes law.
However, state Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, said he couldn’t understand why a delay in necessary.
Hutto said the delay would add another year of uncertainty for SCE&G customers. Those customers just want their money back, the Democrat said, adding constituents keep calling him asking when they can expect their $1,000 refund check from Dominion.
“I’ve never known that delaying justice is anything other than denying justice,” said Hutto, an attorney. “Why would you want to have them wait?”
“There is not going to be justice in this situation, regardless of how it plays out,” Massey replied.
The two went back and forth for much of a 50-minute committee hearing Wednesday. However, it was clear Hutto was outnumbered on the Senate panel.
“It is not a stretch to think that the General Assembly will need more than a couple months to make a decision ... that will affect how we recruit companies, that will affect every single adult in South Carolina for the next 50 years,” said state Sen. Wes Climer, R-York.
Asked by Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Luke Rankin for SCANA’s position on the proposal, lobbyist Jonathan Yarborough said the Cayce-based utility would prefer to have a PSC decision on the buyout proposal by mid-2018, the agency’s current deadline.
“If you had said anything other than what you just said, I think we’d all be in shock,” Rankin replied.
A Dominion spokesman said the company had no comment on the proposal.
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