Politics & Government

How to get over a nuclear meltdown, SC style

Breaking up is hard to do.

But South Carolinians have been doing it – after the Cayce-based SCANA utility and its state-owned partner, Santee Cooper, said Monday that they were abandoning construction of two nuclear power reactors in Fairfield County that their customers have been paying for dearly.

Here’s a guide from The Buzz on how to manage your grief, rage, pity, sorrow – whatever you’re feeling.

No tissues for those at the top

Customers of SCE&G, SCANA’s S.C. subsidiary, pay 18 percent of their power bills to cover the cost of the now-abandoned plants. Thus far, those customers have paid out $1.4 billion for the now-defunct project.

Partly as a result of those charges, S.C. families have the highest power bills in the South and third highest in the nation.

So how have SCANA’s executives fared?

In 2016, the five highest-paid SCANA executives had total compensation of $14 million combined, including $3.3 million in salaries, according to records filed with the Security Exchange Commission.

SCANA chief executive K. B. Marsh was the most highly compensated – at $6.1 million.

Overall, the utility has almost doubled the total compensation of its top brass since S.C. legislators passed a 2007 law that allowed the power company to bill customers for the cost of the reactors while they were under construction. (Previously, the utility had to wait until a new power plant was operating to charge customers for its costs.)

In 2007, SCANA’s five highest-paid executives combined received $8.5 million in total compensation, including $3.1 million in salaries and bonuses.

Know your enemy

You might be among the critics fuming about the Public Service Commission.

Since 2009, that seven-member board has approved nine rate hikes for SCE&G customers to pay for the now abandoned and way-over-budget reactors.

The last thing commission members deserve is an award, right?

Well, that’s exactly what one former PSC member, Bob Moseley, got last week, when Gov. Henry McMaster gave him the state’s highest honor, Order of the Palmetto.

But lay off the jeers for Mr. Moseley, will you?

He retired from the commission in 2008, before the rate increases started.

Make a statement

State Rep. Russell Ott, D-Calhoun, is protesting the nuclear boondoggle in his own way.

In a letter to SCANA chief executive Marsh, Ott said he was returning $2,000 the utility has given him in campaign contributions.

“While $2,000 is not a lot of money compared to the billions of dollars that have been squandered, for many families it could mean the difference in making a mortgage payment or putting food on the table,” he said.

Ott asked the utility to use the money to lower customers’ power bills.

Remember the silver lining

You can’t exactly turn abandoned nuclear sites into shopping malls or car dealerships.

However, as a North Carolina film producer once discovered, they make great movie sets.

A partially constructed nuclear station outside of Gaffney, abandoned by Duke Power in 1983, was used as a site to film “The Abyss,” a 1989 sci-fi flick directed by James Cameron. (Duke had spent $600 million on that plant when it pulled the plug, for those keeping score.)

Maybe there’s a sequel in order?

Buzz bites

▪ President Donald Trump has nominated two Upstate attorneys for federal judgeships in South Carolina.

Donald Coggins, a shareholder in the Harrison, White, Smith & Coggins law office in Spartanburg, previously had been nominated by President Barack Obama as part of a now-dead package deal that also would have put one Republican (Coggins) and one Democrat (S.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Don Beatty) on the federal bench.

Marvin Quattlebaum is a partner in Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough’s Greenville office.

▪ Former Charleston Mayor Joe Riley is this year’s recipient of the 2017 Global Vision Award given annually by the Columbia World Affairs Council. Riley will receive the honor at a November gala. Last year’s recipient was then-Gov. Nikki Haley.

Staff writers Cassie Cope and Avery Wilks contributed. Jamie Self: 803-771-8658, @jamiemself