Politics & Government

Lawyers want $63.5M in fees for suing SCANA. SC Attorney General says that’s too high

Attorney General Alan Wilson
Attorney General Alan Wilson File

S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson says the attorneys who sued SCANA over its failed nuclear project are asking for too much money in return — cash that the Lexington Republican says should go to the power company’s ratepayers instead.

Wilson asked a judge Wednesday to reject those attorneys’ request for about $63.5 million in fees as part of their $2.2 billion settlement with the Cayce-based utility, and instead set a lower amount.

Wilson said more of that money should go toward refunding power customers who have paid more than $2 billion in higher electric rates for the failed V.C. Summer nuclear construction project — and are on the hook to pay about $2.3 billion more for the unfinished nuclear reactors to SCANA’s new owner, Virginia-based Dominion Energy.

The lawsuit settlement included at least $115 million — and up to $200 million — in cash refunds to the power company’s nearly 730,000 electric customers. But ratepayer attorneys have asked for $63.5 million of that cash.

To justify their request, the attorneys say they deserve credit for delivering $2 billion in rate relief to customers as part of their settlement, in addition to the cash refunds. For their work, they asked for 3% of the total $2.2 billion settlement as their attorneys fees.

However, Dominion offered to deliver that $2 billion in rate relief — in the form of a rate cut — in January 2018, long before the ratepayer attorneys settled their lawsuit in November 2018.

In the filing, Wilson wrote that his office — not just the ratepayer attorneys — contributed substantially to the case against SCANA and was a “driving force” in the settlement.

“That contribution should reduce the amount of fees going to (the ratepayer attorneys) and thereby, in effect, provide a rebate to ratepayers,” he wrote.

The potential attorneys’ fees have been a source of contention ahead of a May 14 hearing on the settlement’s fairness.

Columbia attorney Robert Dodson submitted an objection to the settlement late last month, arguing the teams of ratepayer attorneys will get millions of dollars each while S.C. power customers get little.

In justifying their fees, attorneys from 16 law firms wrote last month that they worked more than 26,000 hours fighting SCANA subsidiary SCE&G’s attorneys, interviewing witnesses and poring through hundreds of thousands of pages of crucial documents that revealed details about why the project failed.

They said they spent more than $865,000 of their own money while working the case for 15 months.

“Class counsel have always recognized and welcomed the Attorney General’s advocacy on behalf of the citizens of South Carolina in our lawsuit,” said Ed Westbrook, one of the ratepayer attorneys. “We added the Attorney General to our lawsuit when we first asserted that the (2007 Base Load Review Act, the bill that enabled the nuclear project) was unconstitutional so that his position could be brought into court. His view harmonized with ours. We look forward to discussing the Attorney General’s effort at the hearing on final settlement approval.”

Emily Bohatch helps cover South Carolina’s government for The State. She also updates The State’s databases. Her accomplishments include winning a Green Eyeshade award in Disaster Reporting in 2018 for her teamwork reporting on Hurricane Irma. She has a degree in Journalism with a minor in Spanish from Ohio University’s E. W. Scripps School of Journalism.
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.