Politics & Government

SC judge gives initial OK to SCANA’s $2B settlement with customers over nuclear project

A S.C. judge gave preliminary approval Tuesday to SCANA’s $2.1 billion settlement with its 730,000 S.C. electric customers over high power bills stemming from a failed nuclear construction project.

Circuit Court Judge John Hayes’ decision brings electric customers of SCANA’s subsidiary, SCE&G, a step closer to cash payouts and rate credits after they collectively paid more than $2 billion in higher electric rates for the abandoned V.C. Summer Nuclear Station expansion project in Fairfield County.

Still, the settlement depends on the S.C. Public Service Commission, which sets utility rates, approving Virginia-based Dominion Energy’s offer to buy SCANA and lower the typical SCE&G customer’s power bill by up to $22 a month.

The ratepayer settlement with SCANA depends on that $22-a-month rate cut from Dominion. Without it, the deal would fall apart. After a weeks-long hearing last month, the PSC must make its decision by Dec. 21.

The legal settlement also includes up to $180 million in cash refunds for SCE&G’s current and former customers, to be paid out in portions based upon how much each customer paid in higher rates for the project. The typical SCE&G residential customer’s electric bill rose by about $27 a month after nine rate hikes to finance the project.

An unknown portion of that $180 million pot, however, will be paid to the teams of attorneys who sued SCANA on behalf of its ratepayers and have worked on the case since August 2017 — a month after the project collapsed.

If the Dominion deal is approved, information about the legal settlement would be sent to SCE&G’s 730,000 electric customers, likely starting in January, according to Pete Strom, one of the attorneys leading the case for ratepayers. Customers formally could object to the deal or opt out. Final approval likely would come about April, Strom said.

“For the first time in this whole debacle, the class of customers would have the right to be heard,” Ed Westbrook, one of the attorneys suing SCANA, said in the hearing Tuesday. “Here, customers are going to have the right to speak up. They’re going to have the right to comment on the settlement.”

Reach Wilks at 803-771-8362. Follow him on Twitter @AveryGWilks.
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Avery G. Wilks is The State’s senior S.C. State House and politics reporter. He was named the 2018 S.C. Journalist of the Year by the South Carolina Press Association. He grew up in Chester, S.C., and graduated from the University of South Carolina’s top-ranked Honors College in 2015.