Opinion: SC energy bill out of gas…maybe

EJ Today

Opinion: SC energy bill out of gas…maybe

By Frank Knapp Jr.

The S.C. Energy Security Act was the electric utilities’ big push in 2024.

We are told that the state desperately requires more energy generation to supply the needs of an expanding industrial base and growing population.

The original bill, H.5118, filed in the SC House addressed the state energy needs by instructing the SC Public Service Commission (PSC) to permit the construction of a big gas plant in the lowcountry in a joint project by Dominion Energy and state-owned Santee Cooper.

That bill passed the House with little opposition but ran into a buzzsaw of criticism in the Senate.

Consumer and good-government advocacy organizations joined renewable energy interests in attacking the bill.

The 80-page bill did a lot more than greenlighting a new gas plant by Dominion and Santee Cooper.

It was loaded with other goodies for the utilities.

The problems with the bill are too numerous to list but here are just a few highlights.

  • 5118 told the PSC to approve a specific power generation project. The last time the legislature did this it was a disaster.  In 2007 the legislature, not the PSC, approved SCE&G and Santee Cooper to build new nuclear power plants.  The project was abandoned in 2017 leaving consumers on the hook for a $9-billion hole in the ground.
  • HL5118 contained anti-consumer provisions that would have resulted in utilities getting more favorable ruling from the PSC by cutting the number of Commissioners from 7 to 3, stripping the SC Department of Consumer Affairs from representing consumers in rate hearings, and expanding the mission of the SC Office of Regulatory Staff to include being concerned with the financial health of regulated utilities.
  • 5118 would have made it harder and more expensive for renewable energy companies to get financing.

Add to this the fact that the advocates of the complicated bill felt that they could force the legislation through the Senate quickly.  The House allegedly developed H.5118 over 18 months while the Senate was given just weeks to do its own examination.

Many Senators simply were not going to be bullied into making a quick decision even though they agreed with the premise that the state would need more energy generation for the future.

In the final weeks of the legislature, opponents of H.5118 under the leadership of Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey, did pass the bill after stripping it of all its provisions and making it a resolution acknowledging the need for a comprehensive energy bill.

Today H.5118 has gone to a legislative conference committee of three House members and three Senators, a standard procedure when a bill passed by one body is then amended and passed by the other chamber.

While it appears unlikely that the House and Senate will agree on language for H.5118 and be passed by both chambers, there is possibility of a compromise.

The better option is for the legislature to form a new energy study committee and allow all interested parties to be at the table, something that was not done in the House.

New energy generation will be needed but exactly how much and by what means needs to have a thorough evaluation.

Also needed is the recognition that the state must take measures to dampen future energy needs by controlling excessive energy consumption by certain commercial entities, such as data centers.

In addition, a new approach is needed to help low-income households address their ability to reduce their energy needs by retrofitting structures to make them more energy efficient.

Frank Knapp Jr. is the President and CEO of the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce.



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