Politics & Government

McMaster, Virginia energy giant to break bread at SC Governor’s Mansion

Will SC power customers get their money back after SCANA sale?

Dominion offers $1.3 billion in refunds for SCE&G customers.
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Dominion offers $1.3 billion in refunds for SCE&G customers.

The Virginia energy giant that will continue charging SCE&G customers for two abandoned nuclear reactors for the next two decades will break bread with top S.C. officials next week.

Gov. Henry McMaster will host a reception Wednesday at the Governor’s Mansion for executives of Dominion Energy, which bought embattled Cayce-based utility SCANA, and its SCE&G subsidiary, in the wake of the V.C. Summer nuclear expansion project’s collapse.

“We’re pleased to have been invited by the governor to the South Carolina Governor’s Mansion,” Dominion spokesman Ryan Frazier said. “We look forward to serving the customers of South Carolina with safe, reliable energy.”

A sometimes-Dominion critic said the reception is an attempt to repair relationships between legislators and the utility in an effort to develop a working relationship going forward.

“I don’t think Dominion understands just how difficult of a job that’s going to be. In some cases, bridges were not just burned, they were nuclear bombed,” said state Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey, R-Edgefield. “I was surprised, quite frankly, that I was invited. ... (But) I’m not going to miss that.”

A year of haggling between Dominion and S.C. lawmakers, regulators and attorneys for ratepayers led to the S.C. Public Service Commission approving Dominion’s purchase of SCANA. As part of that deal, Dominion agreed to lower SCE&G’s electric rates by about 15 percent — or $22 a month for the typical residential customer.

Those customers already have paid more than $2 billion in higher power bills — about $27 a month on average — for the failed nuclear project. Those customers will pay another $2.3 billion — or $1,600 for the average household — over the next 20 years for the project’s two unfinished reactors, now abandoned.

“Nobody is more disappointed at the fact South Carolinians will have to continue to pay any amount of money to those nuclear reactors than Governor McMaster,” spokesman Brian Symmes said Thursday. “The fact remains, though, that Dominion Energy has a significant footprint in South Carolina right now.”

That footprint includes nearly 730,000 S.C. electric customers, and about 5,200 full- and part-time former SCANA employees in Georgia and both Carolinas.

“Governor McMaster, as he would with any company or organization with such a footprint in South Carolina, will be welcoming them at a reception hosted at the mansion,” Symmes told The State, adding the governor hosted a similar reception when Samsung announced its plans to build a manufacturing facility in Newberry.

Those invited include Dominion’s new S.C. management team, legislators, members of the governor’s cabinet and “others with a role in the economic development efforts across South Carolina,” Symmes said.

In the wake of the V.C. Summer debacle, critics decried the outsized influence of utilities on S.C. politics.

However, utilities, including Dominion, were among the top sponsors that helped pay the cost of McMaster’s inaugural festivities earlier this month, including a Florida-based utility angling to buy the state-owned Santee Cooper utility.

McMaster wants to sell Santee Cooper after it racked up $4 billion in debt as SCANA’s junior partner in the failed nuclear project. Dominion has said it has no interest in buying Santee Cooper but has offered to manage the state-owned power company.

The governor’s office said the utilities’ contributions to McMaster’s inaugural costs — and those by other businesses — were examples of good corporate citizenship.

“It’s natural for people to be skeptical,” Massey said of Dominion managers rubbing elbows with the governor and lawmakers at next week’s reception. “But it’s important to understand Dominion is here and ... we need to have some type of working relationship to deal with issues when they come up.”

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Tom Barton covers South Carolina politics for The State. He has spent more than a decade covering local governments and politicians in Iowa and South Carolina, and has won awards from the S.C. Press Association and Iowa Newspaper Association for public service and feature writing.