Protesters interrupt hearing on future of SCANA
For decades, SCANA executives and directors duck hunted and held retreats at the nearly 3,000-acre Ramsey Grove Plantation, along the Black River in Georgetown.
But soon Cayce-based SCANA will give up that historic property — and more than a dozen others — to refund to its electric customers a fraction of what they paid for two unfinished nuclear reactors.
Also set to go on the auction block is SCE&G’s 140-year-old business office on Meeting Street in downtown Charleston, nearly six acres on Huger Street in downtown Columbia where SCE&G once stored its buses, and hundreds of acres of mostly undeveloped land along 12th Street in Cayce, just by SCANA’s sprawling corporate campus.
The land transfer is yet another fallout from SCANA’s failed attempt to build two additional nuclear reactors at the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station in Fairfield County. The $9 billion project went belly up in July 2017 after years of cost overruns and construction delays. By then, the utility had raised rates nine times on its unwitting customers to pay for the project.
Teams of lawyers sued SCANA, trying to force the company and its electric subsidiary, SCE&G, to refund the $2 billion it had charged customers for the unfinished power plants. Last month, the attorneys settled for Virginia-based Dominion Energy’s offer to buy out SCANA and cut power bills by about $22 a month — or $2 billion in future rate relief.
As part of that settlement, SCANA also will transfer to the lawyers up to $85 million in real estate and a $115 million trust that had been set aside for the severance pay of SCANA executives. Money from the trust and selling the land will go to the company’s ratepayers and the attorneys who sued SCANA.
It remains to be decided by a judge how much of the up-to-$200 million SCANA refund pot will go to SCE&G’s nearly 730,000 electric customers, and how much will go to ratepayer attorneys.
However, the S.C. Public Service Commission on Wednesday unanimously approved SCANA’s request to transfer two pieces of land. Other land transfers don’t require the state commission’s permission.
But local officials in Cayce want some input.
They worry about what will become of the hundreds of acres of undeveloped land in the Otarre area near SCANA’s corporate headquarters, according to state Sen. Nikki Setzler, D-Lexington.
SCANA’s move to Cayce spurred development along the 12th Street corridor between the Lexington County town and Interstate 77, including a Lexington Medical Center branch, a high-end apartment complex, a tennis center and a Courtyard Marriott hotel. SCANA envisioned a mix of stores, restaurants and homes near its headquarters.
But now any development will be decided by the lawyers who soon will control the land.
“The city of Cayce has a huge concern,” Setzler said. “Folks are interested in how it’s developed.”
Pete Strom, one of the attorneys who sued SCANA for ratepayers, said the lawyers will make sure Cayce leaders are comfortable with any land deals before executing them.
“We want this to be a good settlement for everybody concerned,” Strom said. “We anticipate the (Ramsey Grove) plantation and Meeting Street, as well as this property adjacent to the campus, are all high-value property that will take some time to get the maximum value. We have no interest in a fire sale.”
SCANA has been trying to sell some of the land for years, including the historic SCE&G business office on Meeting Street in downtown Charleston. That one-acre property is worth $12 million, according to the lawsuit settlement.
SCANA also would transfer ownership of SCE&G offices in Aiken and North Augusta. The company has closed many of its regional offices — including the Meeting Street location — in recent years in an effort to cut costs.