About 100 SCE&G customers packed into a hearing room Monday night to vent their frustrations and plead for permanent rate relief from a failed nuclear expansion project that will never generate power.
Monday’s hearing before the S.C. Public Service Commission was the first of three scheduled across the state to hear testimony from customers before commissioners consider whether to approve Virginia-based Dominion Energy’s pending merger with SCE&G’s parent company SCANA and how much the company can charge ratepayers for the abandoned V.C. Summer nuclear project, if at all.
“All you doing is ripping us off,” SCE&G customer and Columbia resident Queen Lewis told the utilities’ lawyers. “Now, we are suffering for it.”
Lewis said she’s forced to keep her thermostat at between 82 to 86 degrees in the summer and 66 to 67 degrees in the winter to avoid a costly power bill she says still remains “sky high,” because of rate increases approved to pay for the failed nuclear expansion.
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“I have to dress like an Eskimo to be warm in my own house and be comfortable,” she said. “It’s like a box of chocolates. You don’t know what you going to get when you get your SCE&G bill.”
Two dozen SCE&G ratepayers addressed the commission. Several of whom likened the utility’s actions to extortion. SCE&G raised its rates nine times over the past decade to bankroll the failed nuclear project. Its 700,000-plus customers already have paid $2 billion for the project in the form of higher power bills.
“I am here to demand what (has) for too long been denied to SCE&G ratepayers: accountability,” customer and Columbia resident Sam Edwards told commissioners. “Accountability for the financial pain this failed nuclear reactor has caused people in South Carolina, and accountability in returning these ill-gotten gains the executives, lobbyists and politicians have raked in by deceiving the public.”
Edwards and others chided state officials for ignoring “better, cleaner, more sustainable energy options,”and instead dumping public funds into a reactor “we will never see ... and into an energy company that is unethical at best and downright criminal at worst.”
“Don’t collect our checks and turn them into trash,” Edwards said, saying ratepayers should be made whole, plus interest, for what they’ve already paid to finance the project. “I want accountability now. Refund now. And clean energy now.”
Many also called on commissioners to reject the proposed SCANA-Dominion merger.
SCE&G has spent about $5 billion on actual construction costs. Under the merger, the new utility would keep collecting the nuclear surcharge, although at a declining rate, for the next 20 years, to repay the project’s remaining debt.
Environmental groups Friends and the Earth and the Sierra Club have filed expert witness testimony, which calls on the PSC to find that all spending since the beginning of the project was imprudent and that ratepayers should not be responsible for such costs. The groups are also requesting all money paid to finance the project be returned to ratepayers.
A hearing on the matter before the Public Service Commission begins Nov. 1.
In the meantime, rate cuts enacted by the S.C. Legislature that took effect last month will stay in place until the PSC rules on SCE&G’s longer-term rates.
A federal appeals court Friday denied SCE&G’s motion to block a more than $22-a-month cut to its average customer’s electric bill.
In a statement, Dominion Energy said it looks forward to hearing from community members at the PSC events, and welcomes the public to its own, separate meet-and-greet events to learn more about the company’s proposed merger.
PSC meeting schedule
- Monday, Oct. 8 in council chambers at the Aiken County Government Center, 1930 University Parkway, third floor, Aiken
- Monday, Oct. 15 at the Lonnie Hamilton III Public Services Building, 4045 Bridgeview Drive, North Charleston
- All meetings start at 6 p.m.
- People wishing to testify will have to sign in and will be allowed a maximum of three minutes.
- For more information, contact the commission at 803-896-5100 or go to www.psc.sc.gov.