GOP candidate for governor Catherine Templeton challenged Gov. Henry McMaster’s leadership Wednesday, blaming the Richland Republican for allowing South Carolina’s nuclear fiasco to go on this long.
Templeton, a Mount Pleasant labor lawyer, said McMaster, the front-runner in June’s GOP primary, hasn’t used the bully pulpit of the governor’s office to pressure S.C. lawmakers to repeal the 2007 law that enabled SCE&G and Santee Cooper’s failed, $9 billion nuclear project.
The proof, she said at a West Columbia news conference, is evident on the power bills of SCE&G customers, which remain about $27 a month higher as customers continue to pay for the now-abandoned V.C. Summer Nuclear Station expansion.
However, McMaster publicly has called on SCE&G to stop charging its customers for the failed project and to refund the $2 billion its customers already paid for two unfinished reactors. He also has threatened to veto any legislative proposal that forces S.C. power customers to continue to pay for the reactors and has pushed lawmakers to sell state-owned Santee Cooper as a way to repay its customers.
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Templeton said that's not enough.
“The Base Load Review Act does have to be repealed, and a strong governor would be out in front of the media, out in front of the ratepayers, out in front of the Legislature all day long, working on the floor of the House and the Senate with the legislators to actually get a bill done,” said Templeton, a former head of the state's labor and environmental departments. “We can’t wait anymore because every single solitary month that they wait and don’t do their jobs, we have to pay more money, and it has an effect on people.”
Templeton's comments came at a news conference in which she rolled out her own nine-pronged solution to the Palmetto State’s energy debacle, including several proposal the governor already has endorsed.
McMaster inherited the nuclear mess last summer, six months after taking over the governor’s office from Nikki Haley, who left the job to join the Trump administration as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
Since SCE&G and Santee Cooper said in July that they had abandoned a nearly decadelong effort to build two new reactors in Fairfield County, McMaster publicly has said S.C. power customers should not pay another dime for the project.
Last week, he joined the House in calling for the state Senate to pass a House bill to lower SCE&G’s power bills until a court decides whether those higher charges are legal. The Senate, though, has been hesitant to vote on the bill, citing concerns about its legality and long-term impact on power rates and economic development.
Separately, McMaster has led the effort to sell state-owned Santee Cooper, which he says is the only way to pay off its $4 billion in nuclear debt and get its customers off the hook for the reactors. That effort has stalled in recent months, however, as the General Assembly has not begun fielding offers for the 84-year-old power company.
"While his opponents use ratepayers as a political gambit on the campaign trail, Henry McMaster has actually acted," said Caroline Anderegg, a spokesman for McMaster's 2018 campaign. "The governor has pushed legislators to act swiftly to protect ratepayers and hold utilities — and those executives leading them — accountable for their actions. This is nothing more than another stunt by Catherine Templeton in a bid to mislead voters about the governor's record of fighting for South Carolinians."
At the news conference, Templeton presented her plan to address South Carolina's nuclear woes, including several points also suggested by state lawmakers or her opponents in the 2018 governor's race. As governor, she said she would:
▪ Pass a law freezing all utility hikes in South Carolina for five years
▪ Repeal the Base Load Review Act
▪ Ban political contributions from utilities to politicians who regulate them
▪ Sell Santee Cooper to the "highest bidder who will eliminate” its $8 billion in debt, $4 billion of which is tied to the nuclear project
▪ Deregulate South Carolina’s utility industry, currently a system of regulated monopolies. That could allow customers who are unhappy with their utilities to shop around for cheaper rates from other power suppliers.
▪ Abolish the Public Service Commission, the state board that OK’d all nine rate hikes SCANA subsidiary SCE&G used to help finance the nuclear project. The House has proposed firing and replacing members of the commission, but no one has proposed to get rid of the rate-setting board altogether.
▪ Create a state secretary of energy to oversee South Carolina’s energy policy, reporting to the governor
▪ Expand customers’ access to energy alternatives to create more competition