June 4, 2018
By Frank Knapp Jr., Guest Columnist
The South Carolina Public Service Commission has been pummeled with criticism for well over a year for approving SCANA’s construction cost overruns and nine rate hikes related to the now-abandoned nuclear reactors in Fairfield County. Customers of SCE&G and the state’s electric co-ops are on the hook for about $9 billion in debt because of those rulings.
However, I have not been one of the PSC critics. Until now.
First some background.
I and my organization, the S.C. Small Business Chamber of Commerce, have intervened in SCE&G rate hike requests since 2002. I personally intervened in the utility’s 2016 request for approval of more nuclear construction costs. I signed the settlement that allowed for more construction costs and prohibited SCE&G from requesting any additional increases. I am also an intervenor in the current matters before the PSC that I hope will provide lower power bills for SCE&G customers, who continue to pay $37 million a month for the for nuclear reactors that will never provide electricity.
I have always defended the PSC for its decisions on the nuclear project.
I still maintain that the law passed by our General Assembly was the real culprit in this debacle, because it basically compelled the PSC to approve every construction cost increase and associated rate hike for the project.
Unfortunately, and strangely, the PSC has not acted on motions to order SCE&G to turn over all the requested documentation.
It’s different now. Last year, the S.C. Office of Regulatory Staff and the Friends of the Earth/Sierra Club filed petitions last year asking the PSC to roll back all the SCE&G rate hikes related to the nuclear project. As a result, the PSC will be holding a very important hearing sometime this year to decide whether SCE&G customers receive any rate relief due to the utility’s mismanagement of the nuclear project and its withholding of critical reports that warned of the project’s failure.
Obviously, to arrive at the proper decision, the PSC must have all the previously hidden information about the problems the project was facing. The PSC needs to know what SCE&G knew and when it knew it.
To date, SCE&G has refused to provide much of this documentation to the parties requesting the information so they can adequately prepare arguments for customer rate relief. Unfortunately, and strangely, the PSC has not acted on motions to order SCE&G to turn over all the requested documentation. Yet the PSC says it wants the Office of Regulatory Staff and all other parties seeking rate relief to file their testimony in just more than two months.
Clearly the PSC is playing right into the hands of SCE&G.
If regulators don’t compel the utility to turn over all the requested documents, that Regulatory Staff and all the other parties will be unable to present an effective argument for rate relief, and the PSC won’t have all the information to justify rolling back rates. Even if the PSC compels SCE&G to provide all the requested documents soon, the parties won’t have enough time to adequately examine them, request follow-up information and then prepare testimony before Aug. 7.
So, it is now time for me to join the chorus of PSC critics.
Intentionally or unintentionally, the PSC is protecting SCE&G.
It is time for the PSC to shed its public image of being subservient to powerful utility companies.
It should do that by compelling SCE&G to fully comply with all discovery requests, and requiring total public transparency of those documents. Regulators should also agree to give the parties seeking rate relief at least an extra time to file their testimony.
The failure of the PSC to take these actions is indefensible and deserving of criticism.
Mr. Knapp is the president and CEO of the S.C. Small Business Chamber of Commerce; contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.