OPINION: If SCANA and Dominion were good citizens, they’d respect our legal, political systems

OPINION: If SCANA and Dominion were good citizens, they’d respect our legal, political systems

The State
February 15, 2018

By Lynn S. Teague, Guest Columnist

We’ve all seen the ads, popping up in our social media and in our newspapers. Support the SCANA-Dominion merger! Get money now! The ads assure us, as do letters in our newspapers from local charities, that SCANA and Dominion are great corporate partners for our communities. If we accept their terms now, we (and our local charities) will get a check in the mail.

Sounds good. What are our legislators and regulators waiting for?

A check in the mail is indeed nice, and the utilities have indeed done good things for local charities. Realistically, though, bank loans would be a cheaper way to get a check in the mail. And there are far more efficient ways to funnel a million dollars to charity than by funneling billions of dollars to electric utilities.

So what kind of good citizenship do we really need from the utilities?

We need respect for our state’s regulatory, legislative and judicial processes.

The Dominion offer depends on short-circuiting the discovery of facts and exploration of legal issues underway in our regulatory system, in our Legislature and in our courts. It depends on our accepting an offer that places a heavy financial burden on both residential and business ratepayers for something that we will never receive — power from an expanded V. C. Summer plant — without negotiation informed by a full understanding of the underlying legal and financial issues.

Sadly, we know that we cannot take the word of utilities for these numbers.

There are many unresolved questions of law and of fact. We do not yet know with certainty whether the law that allowed the charges that we have paid so far, the Base Load Review Act, is constitutional. Our regulatory and court systems have not had a chance to make determinations regarding the prudency of project management at V.C. Summer or the consequences that would have for ratepayer obligations to SCANA. We do not know how much money either SCANA alone or a merged Dominion-SCANA or some other entity would require to maintain a stable reliable energy system and a reasonable return for investors.

Sadly, we know that we cannot take the word of utilities for these numbers.

Our legislators have belatedly realized that we are in a very difficult situation in part because they have failed to establish and maintain a regulatory system that is well-designed to protect the public interest. They are working to fix that.

Do we want to begin an era of reform by allowing one of the most significant economic issues before our state to be settled by utility money and political muscle rather than investigation and evaluation?

Do we want to begin an era of supposed reform by allowing one of the most significant economic issues before our state to be settled by utility money and political muscle rather than by legally defined processes of investigation and evaluation in every branch of our government? The League of Women Voters doesn’t.

We should begin this new era with a commitment to a fully functional regulatory system working in the public interest, with the legislative and judicial branches of government carrying out their roles responsibly. We should have reliable facts and independent evaluations and bring those to the table to find a solution that is genuinely in the long-term public interest.

Perhaps that would resemble the current offer from Dominion. Perhaps it would reward those who want complete fairness, releasing ratepayers from costs for something they will never get. Quite possibly, the answer would fall somewhere between the extremes. We don’t yet know.

Lawmakers and regulators deserve the support of the public as they try to find the best way forward through a legal and economic minefield.

Regulators and the majority of legislators in both parties appear determined not to again make the mistake of a hurried and uninformed judgment compelled by urgent demands from the electric utility industry. They deserve the support of the public as they try to find the best way forward through a legal and economic minefield. We all depend upon their getting this right.

If SCANA and Dominion are indeed “good citizens,” they will join us in wishing those regulators and legislators well and look forward to finding a way forward that is genuinely in the public interest.

Ms. Teague is vice president of the League of Women Voters of South Carolina; contact her at teaguelynn@gmail.com.

Read more here: http://www.thestate.com/opinion/op-ed/article200229509.html#storylink=cpy