Sweeping changes could be coming to the state boards and laws that failed to prevent a bungled nuclear project, costing S.C. power customers billions of dollars.
A special S.C. House panel Monday suggested:
▪ Strengthening the state agency that polices power companies
▪ Creating a consumer advocate’s office to fight for power customers in electricity rate-hike cases
▪ Shaking up the membership of two state boards that set those rates
Those recommendations — among roughly a dozen made Monday — will be filed as bills before S.C. lawmakers return to Columbia in January.
Monday’s S.C. House hearing was the fifth investigating the failed nine-year, $9 billion effort by two utilities to build a pair of nuclear reactors in Fairfield County. It was the House’s first swing at fixing the regulatory system that allowed that debacle.
“We’re here to protect the ratepayer,” said state Rep. Peter McCoy, R-Charleston, chair of the special House committee.
House members recommended strengthening the Office of Regulatory Staff – which regulates utilities – by eliminating its responsibility to protect utilities’ finances, giving it stronger subpoena powers and enabling it to penalize utilities that withhold information.
The PSC’s authority came under scrutiny this fall when lawmakers learned the nuclear project’s majority owner, Cayce-based SCANA, had kept secret a lengthy report. That report diagnosed critical problems at the V.C. Summer construction site 18 months before the project’s July 31 abandonment.
House members also recommended establishing a consumer advocate’s office to fight off electricity rate hikes in cases before the Public Service Commission. That commission approved all nine electricity rate hikes by SCANA – totaling $1.7 billion so far – to bankroll the project.
“We need the skeptic in the room asking: How does this impact the consumer, and how do we keep it from negatively impacting the consumer?” said state Rep. Kirkman Finlay, R-Richland.
The House panel also agreed on requiring Santee Cooper – the state-owned utility that owns a 45-percent stake in the failed project – to get PSC approval for any future power rate-hike requests.
Currently, Santee Cooper’s board sets its power rates. It has approved five hikes to help pay for the unfinished reactors.
The House panel also recommended shaking up the boards of Santee Cooper and the PSC, setting more rigorous criteria for new PSC members.
“We’re trying to up the bar of the skill level of the PSC,” said state Rep. Tommy Pope, R-York. “We want to have that expertise there.”