Politics & Government

SC lawmakers revive special nuclear committees to weigh Dominion-SCANA deal

FILE: State Sen. Shane Massey questions Office of Regulatory Staff leaders during the Senate V.C. Summer committee meeting on how the V.C. Summer expansion project failed and what should be done now to fix the situation.
FILE: State Sen. Shane Massey questions Office of Regulatory Staff leaders during the Senate V.C. Summer committee meeting on how the V.C. Summer expansion project failed and what should be done now to fix the situation. tdominick@thestate.com

The special legislative committees that investigated the failure of SCANA’s $9 billion nuclear project will be put back to work this spring, this time to weigh a $14.6 billion offer to buy the troubled Cayce-based company.

Senate President Pro Tempore Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, reconvened the state Senate’s 12-member committee Tuesday to hear testimony from SCANA and its would-be buyer, Virginia-based Dominion Energy. Hours later, House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, called the S.C. House’s 18-member panel back into action for hearings on the deal.

The deal offers $1.3 billion in cash refunds to customers of SCANA’s electric subsidiary, SCE&G, who have been charged $1.8 billion so far for a pair of abandoned nuclear reactors in Fairfield County. It also offers SCE&G customers an immediate, $7-a-month cut to their power bills, dropping the monthly charge for the V.C. Summer project to about $20.

But those sweeteners come with a caveat that lawmakers are finding tough to swallow: Dominion must be allowed to continue charging SCE&G customers for the project over the next 20 years.

“It’s going to be primarily about that one issue,” said Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey, the Edgefield Republican who co-chairs the special committee.

Leatherman urged the Senate and its special committee to take a deliberate, thoughtful approach to fixing the systemic problems exposed by the S.C. nuclear fiasco, which has cost SCANA stockholders and SCE&G customers billions of dollars.

“We need the Senate to take our time, to make sure decisions we make are well thought-out and take into account more than just political expediency,” Leatherman said, making one of several digs at the S.C. House, which is expected to pass quickly its package of nuclear proposals.

Lucas noticed.

“The House has continued to monitor the recent developments surrounding the V.C. Summer nuclear fallout since our ratepayer protection package was prepared in December,” he said in a statement. “Comments made today in the Senate illustrate an inability to comprehend that our thoughtful approach remains the top priority of this legislative session.”

Dominion spokesman Chet Wade said the Richmond-headquartered company welcomes “a thoughtful, complete dialogue” about its offer. “We believe it is the best process for all customers.”

The Senate and House committees met nearly a dozen times last fall, questioning state regulators and executives from SCANA and the state-owned Santee Cooper utility, the project’s junior partner. Each panel filed a handful of proposals shaking up how the state regulates utilities and trying to protect SCE&G customers from future nuclear-related charges.

Lawmakers have said they need more information about Dominion’s offer than the Richmond, Va.,-based utility has disclosed in news releases, including exactly how much SCE&G customers would owe for the nuclear project.

“We can’t judge bullet points, and, at this point, all we have are bullet points,” said Senate Minority Leader Nikki Setzler, D-Lexington, who co-chairs the Senate committee. “We’ve got to know the details.”

Massey, among a number of lawmakers who want SCE&G’s nuclear charges stopped, warned his colleagues that a fleet of lobbyists would descend on them to praise Dominion’s offer. “You’re going to get one version of things. I promise you there is more than one version.”

Lawmakers’ approval is not necessary for Dominion to buy SCANA. But Dominion has said the General Assembly could kill the deal if it repeals a 2007 law that SCANA is using to continue charging customers for the failed nuclear project.

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

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