South Carolina editorial roundup
The Associated Press
May. 16, 2018
Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:
The Post and Courier of Charleston says the state's utility ratepayers need relief now:
The legislative session ended recently, and SCE&G customers are still paying 18 percent of their monthly power bills toward the $9 billion cost of two failed nuclear reactors that will never be switched on.
It's time to finally do something about that.
A conference committee composed of state House and Senate members met recently to consider a rate cut for SCE&G customers. They failed to take any action.
The House has approved a full 18 percent rate cut. The Senate has approved a less optimal, but safer 13 percent cut. Both would be temporary measures while state regulators and officials work to further untangle the mess that led to one of South Carolina's most costly economic disasters.
But it's time to reach an agreement.
The 18 percent cut appeals to fairness. After all, why should customers continue to pay for something that will never benefit them? It's outrageous that SCE&G ratepayers have spent an average of $27 per month on the two abandoned reactors for close to a year by now.
The 13 percent cut the Senate wants has the advantage of safety. According to a recent report, that's the maximum that lawmakers can cut SCE&G customers' bills without risking financial chaos for the utility's parent company, SCANA.
Frustrated customers may not be particularly concerned about the financial health of SCANA right now. But they should be. SCANA, and the reliable electricity it supplies, are key components of South Carolina's larger economy. The state can't function without power, and throwing SCANA into chaos could end up forcing everyone to pay even higher electric bills in the long run.
Further complicating matters, Gov. Henry McMaster has threatened to veto any rate cut less than the full 18 percent. But that's almost certainly an empty threat. Vetoing lower power bills for hundreds of thousands of South Carolina residents and businesses would be politically disastrous ahead of the upcoming gubernatorial primary.
Again, the rate cuts in question are temporary. Regulators will have the final say. They should find a way to completely undo the nuclear payments and permanently lower customers' bills.
But in the meantime, SCE&G ratepayers need relief.
The House and Senate are considering a move that would allow them to keep debating nuclear issues into the summer, after the regular session has ended. There's no reason to delay this any further and leave customers to pay yet another inflated electric bill. Lawmakers have had since January to come up with a solution. It's past time.
Take advantage of the last day of the session. Cut rates. Pick a fair 18 percent or a safe 13 percent. Either would provide desperately needed short-term respite from higher power bills — especially as the weather starts to heat up.
Send something to Mr. McMaster. Let regulators continue their work. And save SCE&G customers a few extra dollars now — not later.
The Island Packet says the departure of the Beaufort County schools superintendent won't fix problems:
Beaufort County schools superintendent Jeff Moss is leaving.
He should have left the district in 2015 when he was rapped by the State Ethics Commission after his wife was hired to fill a new $90,000 central office job. That was two years into what became a painful five-year tenure that is to end July 31. He lost the public's trust and never regained it. He resigned May 15, somehow having the muscle to leverage a buyout of about a quarter of a million dollars from the Beaufort County Board of Education.
But his effectiveness formally ended on a Saturday in April when a $76 million bond referendum was squashed by voters — 72 percent of them sending a blistering message that they do not trust school district leadership. Clearly, if the growing district was to meet its needs, Moss had to leave.
Whatever good Moss could do for the district (he touts increased graduation rates; greater school choice; more science, math and technology offerings; better career education; and local teacher pay supplements) was overshadowed by a "we vs. they" attitude between his administration and both the public and some school board members.
But Moss's departure is no silver bullet. His bosses are still here.
And they — a majority of the school board — are the ones who failed to hold Moss accountable. They are the ones constantly engaging in political chess moves, often orchestrated behind the scenes. They are the ones who cannot act like civilized adults. They are the ones who try to quash anyone who dares raise questions, when raising questions is not only the right but the duty of a board member.
How Moss' resignation was handled is a microcosm of the whole problem, which will not leave just because Moss steps out the door.
The skids were clearly greased between some board members, Moss and attorneys prior to a two-hour closed meeting in which a board majority pushed for a quick decision on a complicated agreement.
Why was the decision rushed? Why did some board members have information others did not?
Board member David Striebinger said it best: "I've had more time to review my cellphone contract."
Later that night, Striebinger posted in a long Facebook discussion of the resignation, which he voted against: "I would be interested in how many commenters would agree to a contract they were told they couldn't see."
Why was it done this way? It did not have to be done this way, and that is the problem. It is more of the relentless barrage of nonsense from the school board's leadership.
And it is sad proof that anyone celebrating the departure of Moss is missing the point. The school board still has a long way to go to gain public trust.
The Times & Democrat says lawmakers have further clouded the issue surrounding abandoned nuclear reactors:
At too many turns along the way, the news from the ongoing saga of the abandoned nuclear reactors at the V.C. Summer plant in Fairfield County has been anything but positive for the utilities.
The very idea of those at the helm at South Carolina Electric and Gas Co., its parent firm SCANA Corp. and Santee Cooper profiting in any way from the debacle infuriates just about everyone, not the least of those being South Carolina lawmakers determined to provide relief for ratepayers picking up the tab for the failed project.
While it's not hard to get most South Carolinians to go along with the idea that they've paid enough for the project, the fact is the General Assembly cannot solve the problem as much as it wants the public to believe it can.
Before leaving Columbia at the session's end this past week, both the House and Senate passed legislation mandating rate reductions by SCE&G for the tab being charged to electric customers for the nuclear project. (The Legislature and PSC have no power regarding Santee Cooper rates.)
The House and Senate versions differ and there is no guarantee of a compromise, though lawmakers are anxious to tell voters they did something on the issue ahead of June's primaries.
The House version removes the rate hikes for the nuclear project authorized under the Base Load Review Act, the 2007 law approved by the General Assembly that gave SCE&G the right to make such charges whether the project was successful or not. The House extends the rate relief until the Public Service Commission makes a decision on whether SCE&G and SCANA are responsible for the nuclear debt. The reduction would also last through any court cases resulting from appeals.
The Senate lifts the rate hikes imposed after 2011, leaving 2009-2010 rate hikes intact. It gives relief for 30 days.
There are real questions regarding the legislature's legal power to mandate a rate reduction, but even if the reductions occur, they are short-lived.
With the PSC ruling scheduled for later this year, rate relief would range from one month (the Senate) to about five months (the House). By year's end, the PSC would have to decide on SCE&G/SCANA's liability and whether Virginia-based Dominion Energy's proposal to purchase SCANA will be approved.
The much-publicized merger of the utilities would mean implementation of Dominion's plan to refund SCE&G's customers about $1,000 each and reduce rates for the nuclear project by about 5 percent, but the remainder of the 18 percent being charged now would remain for 20 years. Dominion has said it will not go through with the merger if lawmakers or regulators remove its ability to recoup nuclear project monies. Without the merger, SCANA has said it would continue to charge for the plant for up to 60 more years.
Doing away with the Base Load Review Act is within lawmakers' power, but retroactively undoing SCE&G's ability under the law to charge for the nuclear project is certain to be challenged in court. And all the while this saga plays out, the future of SCANA Corp. and SCE&G is left hanging. Despite the claims and counterclaims of the utility's ability to survive if it is saddled with all nuclear plant debt, such a scenario would not be good for SCE&G, which is vital to development and quality of life in a big part of South Carolina.
A famous Yogi Berra quote is "It ain't over til it's over." Well, it seems South Carolina's experience with the failed nuclear project is anything but over, even if lawmakers come to agreement in the coming weeks on rate reductions. The fight then, in some ways, will have just begun. And the future of the Dominion deal, which remains the best solution all around, will be in further doubt.