Politics & Government

House speaker asks agency head to quit over failed nuclear project; governor says no

SCE&G and VC Summer: By the numbers

Timeline of the effort by SCE&G, Santee Cooper and Westinghouse to build two more reactors at VC Summer nuclear station in Fairfield County
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Timeline of the effort by SCE&G, Santee Cooper and Westinghouse to build two more reactors at VC Summer nuclear station in Fairfield County

The speaker of S.C. House Wednesday asked for the resignation of the director of the state agency tasked with looking out for utility customers, hours after that official testified before a House panel on the failed V.C. Summer nuclear expansion project.

But S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster is adamant Office of Regulatory Staff executive director Dukes Scott won’t leave his job.

House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, says Scott should quit after two S.C. utilities abandoned their plans to complete two nuclear reactors, a move that could cost South Carolinians billions of dollars.

“His testimony before the committee raised significant concerns over ORS’ management of the V.C. Summer nuclear project,” Lucas said in a statement. “New leadership in my opinion is necessary to assure South Carolina ratepayers that the Office of Regulatory Staff holds their interests in the highest regard. I believe this is the first of many steps that must occur to prevent this type of catastrophe from happening again.”​​

Lucas can not fire Scott. That authority lies with McMaster, who met with Scott Wednesday about Lucas’ request. McMaster told Scott that he would not accept his resignation, the governor’s office said.

“Gov. McMaster is focused on getting reactors built at V.C. Summer or getting ratepayers their money back,” McMaster spokesman Brian Symmes said. “Dukes Scott is an invaluable member of a team that has met with some of the largest utilities in the world, and these potential buyers must be confident that South Carolina has the regulatory stability and institutional credibility necessary to justify their investment.

“Any calls for Scott’s resignation would be completely unwarranted.”

Reached Wednesday night, Scott – who has led the agency since its 2004 creation – declined to say whether he would resign.

”I’ve got a lot of discussing to do with my family,” Scott said. “I just don’t want to make any statement.”

‘There was no lawful way’

The Lucas-McMaster power struggle followed nearly two hours of testimony by Scott Wednesday to a House panel convened by the speaker.

Scott frustrated legislators by testifying that his office recommended in 2008 that the S.C. Public Service Commission approve the Fairfield County nuclear project and, then, did not oppose any of nine rate hikes that Cayce-based SCE&G’s was granted to pay for it.

Those hikes have cost SCE&G customers $1.4 billion so far.

“He is a very important man and has been for years in this state as it relates to energy policy,” saud state Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Richland. “If he tells us it’s a good idea, we vote for it.”

Scott said state law requires his agency to look after utility ratepayers but also to protect the interests of utilities — a conflicting mission that legislators say set up the agency for failure.

Scott also testified that a 2007 law, passed by the Legislature, hamstrung his agency’s ability to oppose rate hikes that SCE& requested for the nuclear power project.

“There was no lawful way under the Base Load Review Act” to oppose the rate hikes, said Scott, who was paid a $175,117-a-year salary in 2015.

During his testimony, Scott said he was taking an anti-depressant to counter the stress of the nuclear debacle. He also said that if lawmakers thought he had failed, he could be replaced. “If I fail, you don’t need me to hang around.”

Scott disappeared after lawmakers called for a 10-minute break.

When he didn’t return after the break ended, state Rep. Peter McCoy, R-Charleston, told the room that Scott’s agency would complete its testimony at a later date.

Sammy Fretwell contributed. Avery G. Wilks: 803-771-8362, @averygwilks

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