Members of a state commission that approved nine rate hikes to bankroll SCE&G’s failed nuclear project soon could lose their jobs.
The S.C. House voted 108-1 Thursday to fire the seven members of the state Public Service Commission over the next two years. The move would shake up the utility regulator ahead of one of its most important rulings ever.
The vote sends the proposal, which also strengthened ethics requirements for the new members, to the state Senate.
“The V.C. Summer nuclear fallout has exposed a significant lapse of oversight by the Public Service Commission in its approval of nine rate hikes for SCE&G customers,” House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, said in a statement after the vote. “The passage of today’s bill prevents these mistakes from occurring again by increasing accountability for commissioners through shorter and staggered terms of service.”
The House vote to reorganize the PSC comes as the commission faces a daunting challenge. At some point, the PSC must rule on whether to approve Virginia-based Dominion’s pending buyout of SCANA, SCE&G’s Cayce-based parent company.
That ruling would settle the hotly debated question of whether SCE&G — and Dominion if the buyout goes through — can continue to charge some 700,000 S.C. power customers over the next 20 years for a failed attempt to build two more nuclear reactors at the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station in Fairfield County.
The House proposal would give the governor the authority to name interim PSC members if a case must be heard before lawmakers can screen and select applicants to fill the three PSC vacancies that will occur this summer.
The lone dissenting vote came from state Rep. Jonathon Hill, R-Anderson. Hill argued the bill was “political scapegoating” of the PSC meant to distract from the Legislature’s 2007 passage of the Base Load Review Act, which enables SCE&G to charge its customers even after abandoning the V.C. Summer project.
Hill also said the bill is flawed because it allows fired PSC members to reapply for their jobs. “It does not guarantee us a new Public Service Commission, so don’t think of this bill as cleaning house.”
State Rep. Gary Clary, R-Pickens, said if current PSC members can survive a rigorous screening process to get their seats back, they deserve them.