The S.C. House is trying to force the state Senate to go along with a plan to slash temporarily the electric bills of SCE&G customers, which rose 18 percent during the utility’s failed 10-year effort to build two nuclear reactors.
State representatives said Thursday they are frustrated the Legislature’s slower-moving upper chamber hasn’t yet debated the bill-cutting proposal, which the House passed last month. Some senators, meanwhile, question whether the House bill is constitutional and want more time to weigh it against other options.
“This issue has been studied, it’s been studied, it’s been studied, and ratepayers are paying $1.3 million a day” in higher power bills for the failed V.C. Summer nuclear expansion project, said state Rep. Peter McCoy, R-Charleston. “This needs to be taken up immediately. We owe it to South Carolina ratepayers that are struggling to pay bills.”
To prod the Senate, a House committee Thursday revealed plans to significantly alter a nuclear-related bill the Senate wants passed. That Senate proposal would delay until December 2018 a state commission’s decision on whether Virginia-based Dominion Energy can buy SCANA and its SCE&G subsidiary, a ruling that could settle how much SCE&G customers end up paying for the failed nuclear project.
The House expects to revise the Senate’s proposal, adding language that lowers SCE&G’s electric bills – at least until the state Public Service Commission issues its ruling in December.
“If there’s going to be a delay that’s going to take months, then there needs to be immediate relief for the ratepayer,” said McCoy, chairman of the House’s special nuclear committee.
But Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Luke Rankin, the Horry Republican who decides when House nuclear bills are considered, expressed doubt Wednesday about the constitutionality of the House’s plan to cut SCE&G’s power bills.
Those rates were raised under a 2007 law the S.C. Legislature passed to encourage SCE&G to begin construction of the V.C. Summer project.
“Is that something we can do?” Rankin asked at the end of a Wednesday hearing.
Squabbling between the House and Senate is nothing new.
The 124-member House gets flustered when it passes bills that die in the more deliberative Senate. The 46-member Senate complains that the House passes bills without fully considering their consequences.
House members recently have taken to Twitter to put more pressure on the Senate, mentioning SCE&G customers still are being charged $37 million a month – or about $27 a month for the typical residential customer – for a construction project that won’t be finished.
“Every day the Senate refuses to act ... the ratepayers lose $1,200,000.00 in hard earned income,” House Majority Leader Gary Simrill, R-York, tweeted Tuesday.
State Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Berkeley, said he is concerned the Legislature’s proposals would actually cause rates to rise in the long run. “I’m just trying to encourage my colleagues to act with good information and not base their decisions on the emotions of any particular day.”
State Rep. Micah Caskey, R-Lexington, said he can’t understand why senators need more than the eight months they already have had in order to evaluate the issue. “I don’t know what they’ve been doing.”