In a lengthy meeting Tuesday, attorneys for SCE&G sought to dismiss a request by state regulators that would revoke its rate increases used to fund ill-fated construction at the V.C. Summer nuclear facility.
Attorney Benton Zeigler argued that eliminating the rate increases could hurt the company financially, and even risk its bankruptcy. He said the utility plans to file a request in January that would lower consumer rates.
However, the Office of Regulatory Staff (ORS) argued consumers shouldn’t have to pay rate increases that were used to pay for construction on the project discontinued by SCE&G and its partner Santee Cooper in July.
Both sides posed their arguments to the state Public Service Commission on Tuesday, which is considering a motion by SCE&G to dismiss ORS’s recommendation that the commission revoke its nuclear-linked rates.
The commissioners turned to South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson for his opinion on the rate increases allowed under the Base Load Review Act, which legislators passed in 2007 to encourage nuclear construction.
“I stand here today on behalf of the more than 700,000 citizen ratepayers of the state of South Carolina and it is our position that the unconstitutional position of the Base Load Review Act has deprived these ratepayers of their right to be adequately heard on the numerous rate increases they have incurred over the last 10 years,” Wilson told the commission.
“I’m concerned primarily with the ratepayers and how we’re going to treat them going forward from this point in time. It is imperative that the ratepayers’ interest, as well as the public interest, be adequately represented,” Wilson continued. “Ratepayers have now spent billions in higher rates but have no new nuclear facility to show for it. Basically, more than 700,000 ratepayers were forced to buy a money pit and they were not given adequate input into that decision.”
Wilson told the commission it has the authority to make decisions that will protect ratepayers from further rate increases.
South Carolina House Speaker Jay Lucas also had a representative at the meeting. Lucas released the following statement:
“As previously stated before the PSC today, the House’s number one priority has been to protect ratepayers from the VC Summer nuclear facility fallout. After hearing SCE&G’s arrogant position to the PSC and failure to express any remorse for fraudulently mismanaging ratepayer funds for a failed project, I expect the PSC to rule in favor of the ORS petition and provide ratepayers with the relief they deserve. The General Assembly remains committed toconsidering legislative proposals in January that will reduce rates and provide increased safeguards to prevent this scenario from occurring again.”
An ad-hoc House committee has proposed several pieces of legislation relating to the failed V.C. Summer project and utility regulation.
ORS attorney Shannon Hudson requested the revised rates be suspended immediately and the motion to dismiss be denied by the commission. She argued a copy her office secured of the 2016 report from consultant Bechtel, hired by SCE&G, did not include pages referring to a construction schedule, while the 2015 report did.
Hudson said the ORS recommended revised rates based on information not fully disclosed by the company.
“Had we been given this information, the outcome would have been different,” she said.
Ziegler told the commission several times “had Westinghouse not gone bankrupt, these plants would be under construction today. . . the Westinghouse bankruptcy is the sole reason why we’re here today.”
Ziegler said a report from Bechtel, which the ORS argued it had difficulty getting from the utility, did not indicate the project could not be finished. He argued that if the commission decides to eliminate the proposed rate increases, SCE&G would be in financial jeopardy. He told the commission that credit rating agencies are “very close to break point” when it comes to the company’s ratings. A lower rating means it would cost the company more if it needs to borrow money.
The commission adjourned without a ruling Tuesday.