Business

‘Stop the Blank Check’ Coalition forms to oppose SCE&G rate hikes

South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce President Frank Knapp announces his organization is joining a group of environmental and social work organizations to oppose a rate increase by South Carolina Electric & Gas to pay for cost overruns on two new nuclear plants. The nuclear plants are $4 billion over budget and years behind schedule.
South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce President Frank Knapp announces his organization is joining a group of environmental and social work organizations to oppose a rate increase by South Carolina Electric & Gas to pay for cost overruns on two new nuclear plants. The nuclear plants are $4 billion over budget and years behind schedule. AP

A statewide coalition has formed to fight SCE&G’s ability to raise electric rates in South Carolina for nuclear construction when a project goes over budget and falls years behind schedule.

The issue is construction at the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station in Fairfield County, where SCE&G and co-owner Santee Cooper are eight years into building two nuclear reactors that had an expected cost of $11.4 billion in 2009.

Stop The Blank Check is a coalition of organizations that want the South Carolina Public Service Commission to deny SCE&G’s pending request to increase the cost of the two reactors by $846 million and to raise electric rates by 3 percent.

“This coalition has come together to oppose both of those (requests),” said Frank Knapp, president and CEO of the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce and a coalition organizer. “We ask, if they are going to have a rate hike, let it be smaller. If they are going to have an increase in costs, which they will, that it be smaller.”

The coalition, which includes the South Carolina Sierra Club, the National Association of Social Workers and the League of Women Voters, among others, also plans to press the Legislature to amend a 2006 law that allows the company to raise electric rates to pay for financing the Jenkinsville construction before the project is finished.

The law — called the the Base Load Review Act — has allowed SCE&G to raise rates eight times since 2009. The current request would be the ninth.

“The Base Load Review Act has turned into a blank check for SCE&G and will be so for future utilities that want to use it,” Knapp said. The act “emasculated” the Public Service Commission’s authority to say ‘no’ to SCE&G after the commission gave the Summer project its initial approval, Knapp charges.

It also tied the commission’s hands to cut the 10.5 percent equity return rate the SCANA-owned utility is seeking for its parent company, Knapp said.

SCE&G spokesman Eric Boomhower said the utility is working to meet the future energy needs of the state but must continue building a reliable energy infrastructure to do that. He noted that nuclear power offers the top choice for also meeting the state’s future environmental standards for carbon emissions.

SCE&G has acknowledged the costs of the Unit 2 and Unit 3 reactors have escalated and both projects are years behind schedule.

The total projected cost of the nuclear construction at V.C. Summer has risen by $2.46 billion since 2009, Boomhower noted, rising from $11.4 billion to $13.8 billion currently, a 21.6 percent increase. The Unit 2 reactor completion date has slid from 2017 to 2019 and the Unit 3 reactor completion has fallen from 2018 to 2020.

The PSC will rule on the plant cost increase and SCE&G’s rate increase request in October.

Roddie Burris: 803-771-8398

  Comments