Politics & Government

SC utility watchdog ends consulting deal with ex-director who oversaw VC Summer project

Former Office of Regulatory Staff executive director Dukes Scott is out — again — at South Carolina’s utility watchdog agency, less than a month after The State reported he had been quietly rehired as a $100-an-hour consultant.

The agency terminated its consulting deal with Scott last Wednesday, the same day current Regulatory Staff executive director Nanette Edwards met with a state lawmaker who was critical of the arrangement.

“I just voiced my concerns that we did not need to set a precedent by going back to the previous regime at this point,” said state Rep. Kirkman Finlay, R-Richland. “ORS’ management of the V.C. Summer nuclear plant was one of the largest regulatory failures, if not the largest regulatory failure, in South Carolina history. We do not need to continue with the same resources in place.”

News of Scott’s consulting work at Regulatory Staff surprised many lawmakers who were critical of Scott’s leadership after Regulatory Staff failed to protect South Carolinians from rate hikes for a nuclear power plant that was never completed.

Scott retired in January 2018 from the agency that is tasked with oversight of utility rates after Cayce-based SCE&G pulled the plug on the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station expansion project in July 2017, saddling ratepayers with billions of dollars in costs.

In Scott’s defense, the Legislature’s 2007 passage of the Base Load Review Act — parts of which were written by utility attorneys — essentially guaranteed SCE&G’s ability to raise rates and rendered Regulatory Staff toothless to regulate the V.C. Summer project.

Last year, lawmakers reversed course, repealing the Base Load Review Act and changing Regulatory Staff’s mission to focus more on protecting ratepayers.

Scott’s successor, Edwards, rehired him in January 2019 to advise the agency on strategy and personnel matters and to provide institutional knowledge.

Some lawmakers weren’t happy when they found out about the arrangement last month.

“I was questioning their judgment,” Finlay, who sat on S.C. House committee that investigated the project’s failure, said of his meeting with Edwards last Wednesday. “When your judgment is questioned, especially on matters that had been under such scrutiny, you can get into a downward spiral very quickly.”

Others thought such frustration was misplaced.

“ORS has a new mission that is more focused on protecting consumers,” said Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey, R-Edgefield. “They have been aggressive in that effort, and I’m willing to allow them to run that office until they prove to me that they’re not going to be aggressive in that effort.”

Lucas’ office declined to comment, though the speaker was critical of the consulting arrangement, as reported in The State last month. Edwards sent a one-sentence letter to Lucas and Finlay last Thursday informing them she had terminated Scott’s employment.

In an emailed statement to The State, Edwards wrote, she ended the deal “after review and input from key stakeholders.”

“I’m grateful for the value he provided to ORS, and the agency benefited from his institutional knowledge,” she said.

Reached Monday, Scott said he had no comment.

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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.