Officials’ hands tied vs. SCE&G?

Lexington County Chronicle
August 10, 2017

By Jerry Bellune

Lawmakers may not be able to protect their constituents from even higher electricity rates.

S.C. Electric & Gas wants the Public Service Commission to approve higher rates even though they will not finish the two nuclear reactors they promised would save customers millions of dollars on their bills.

SCE&G will file for $2.2 billion more from customers over 60 years to recover the cost of abandoning its two unfinished nuclear reactors.

Even if lawmakers rescind the controversial Base Load Review Act they passed 10 years ago, experts say they cannot retroactively stop the company from recovering costs from customers.

An expensive special legislative session this year will do little to help customers, said Frank Knapp of the S.C. Small Business Chamber of Commerce.

A state law encouraged SCE&G to run up costs because it pocketed almost 11% of any rate hike as a return on equity, he said.

Repaying customers may be a lost cause, but Friends of the Earth has promised to fight to get customers’ money back.

What can be done, Knapp and other experts say is:

• Changing state regulators’ mission. This means the Office of Regulatory Staff would be charged with protecting customers, not utilities and customers.

• Replacing or reforming the Public Service Commission and ending its policy of secretly deciding on rates.

“The legislature must review or possibly rescind the Base Load Review Act,” said Sen. Ronnie Cromer.

“I believe SCE&G and Santee Cooper should lower their rates to offset their apparent overcharging customers,” he said.

Both should determine “how this mismanagement occurred and those responsible for allowing this debacle should possibly be relieved of duty.”

Lexington County House members Chip Huggins, Todd Atwater, Cal Forrest and Mac Toole are sponsoring a bill to hold utilities more accountable for how they finance construction projects and keep electric rate hikes in check.

“We do not want to see taxpayers and our state on the hook for this terrible debacle,” Huggins said.

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