Changes South Carolina’s utility laws after cancellation of nuclear reactors, consumer groups demand

Changes South Carolina’s utility laws after cancellation of nuclear reactors, consumer groups demand

Charleston Post and Courier
September13, 2017

By Andrew Brown

 

COLUMBIA — Pressure is growing to change South Carolina’s utility laws and regulations following the financial catastrophe that led to canceling two nuclear reactors at the V.C. Summer station in Fairfield County.

A handful of lobbying groups calling themselves the Stop the Blank Check Coalition gathered at the Statehouse on Wednesday to push a list of reforms to the state’s regulatory system.

The current structure allowed $9 billion to be wasted on the reactors that were killed by investor-owned SCANA and state-run Santee Cooper.

“Major change comes about because of crisis,” said Frank Knapp, president of the Small Business Chamber of Commerce. “It’s up to voters out there to hold lawmakers feet to the fire.”

Other groups represented include AARP, the S.C. League of Women Voters and other statewide associations.

The concerted effort to alter the state’s utility regulations comes at a time when two special legislative committees continue to probe what went wrong with the reactors that were intended to usher in a new age of nuclear power in the United States.

With questions about the future of utility regulations likely to be at the forefront of next year’s legislative session, the coalition has a long list of changes they are asking lawmakers to enact. They want the governor, not state lawmakers, to be in control of appointing the seven regulators on the state’s Public Service Commission. They called for state-owned Santee Cooper to be regulated the same way investor-owned utilities are in South Carolina.

Other proposals are that state employees with the Office of Regulatory Staff add a consumer advocacy office, and be freed from representing the financial health of the utility companies. They want to ban state-regulated utilities from contributing to lawmakers political campaigns in South Carolina.

Most importantly, they want lawmakers to repeal the Base Load Review Act, which allowed SCANA to charge customers for the failed reactors as they were being built. And they want state officials to force SCANA and its investors to eat the cost of the abandoned reactors that are only 30 percent complete.

Lynn Teague, legislative director for the League of Women Voters, said the 2007 law gave “perverse incentives” to SCANA and other investor-owned utilities to build huge power plants without providing sound oversight of the projects.

The demise of the nuclear expansion near Jenkinsville in late July and the dismissal of more than 5,000 workers has since led to the cancellation of other nuclear power projects that had been waiting to proceed for years.

The massive failure at V.C. Summer has caused a financial crisis in South Carolina as state leaders have rushed to determine how the project went so awry. Lawmakers that initially reacted with astonishment have since come to learn the project had been failing for years due to a lack of oversight and incompetence on the part of Westinghouse, the project’s lead contractor.

Both partnering utilities knew of major failures long ago, according to documents that have surfaced, but executives with both electric providers shielded that information from state regulators and the public. Meanwhile, spending grew and the completion dates slipped.

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