Politics & Government

Ads touting Dominion-SCANA deal are back, just ahead of a key vote on SC power bills

Dominion Energy is back on S.C. airwaves after taking a seven-week break to reassess what state lawmakers called "deceptive advertising."

But the Virginia-based power company isn't saying what changes — if any — it is making to its newspaper, online, radio and TV advertisements promoting its deal to buy out troubled SCANA. The ads are returning just ahead of a state Senate vote on a proposal that could jeopardize that deal.

Dominion has agreed to buy SCANA and offer its S.C. electric customers a $10-a-month rate cut and partial refunds — worth about $1,000 — for the failed V.C. Summer nuclear project. But Dominion's marketing campaign touting that deal — still subject to the S.C. Public Service Commission's approval — ran into trouble in February.

Lawmakers complained then that Dominion was misleading S.C. power customers by touting the $1,000 refunds in areas with no SCANA customers and failing to mention that it plans to charge SCANA's customers roughly $3.8 billion more for the abandoned Summer project. Some senators also accused Dominion of fear-mongering by highlighting the possible fallout from a SCANA bankruptcy.

Dominion spent $3.7 million producing and placing those ads before suspending the campaign on Feb. 14, just hours after a special Senate nuclear committee voiced its concerns.

Now, the ads are back. Customers across the Palmetto State should begin seeing them again by the end of this week, Dominion spokesman Chet Wade said.

Wade said Dominion is resuming the campaign because "this is an extremely important issue for SCE&G customers as well as South Carolina."

"We want to make sure everyone knows who Dominion Energy is and how our proposal would impact them," Wade said.

Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey, R-Edgefield, suspects Dominion instead wants to put pressure on state senators ahead of their vote on a bill to temporarily slash the power bills of SCANA's electric subsidiary, SCE&G.

Dominion has threatened to withdraw its offer to buy SCANA if lawmakers meddle with the utility's electric rates, the highest in the region after being raised nine times to bankroll the Summer project.

"They're clearly trying to put pressure on legislators," said Massey, who has been critical of the Dominion deal and the Virginia-based utility's marketing campaign. "The design is to influence the public to contact their legislators. They saw the vote in the Senate. They're trying to get us not to do that."

It was unclear Monday how Dominion's campaign might differ from its previous ads.

Wade said Dominion has no way to advertise only in SCANA's service territory, since some media markets include customers served by several utilities. He also argued Dominion has "been pretty up front about the fact that we cannot eliminate all the costs for the new nuclear project."

“We certainly took the concerns of the legislators into account," Wade said. "But we also want to focus on the concerns of the customers and citizens of the state. The interest is broad and strong.”

As of Monday afternoon, Dominion had not filed any forms with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission indicating it had produced any new ads. Wade said new scripts are being written and "will be filed at the appropriate time."

Reach Wilks at 803-771-8362. Follow him on Twitter @AveryGWilks.