South Carolina lawmakers split on refunds or rate freezes
Nov. 21, 2017
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina lawmakers may be split on whether they can give refunds or freeze the rates of utility customers who spent nearly $2 billion on a pair of nuclear plants that never generated power.
The House Judiciary Committee approved six bills Tuesday that would block project co-owner South Carolina Electric & Gas Co. from continuing to charge its customers $37 million a month for the two scuttled reactors at the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station.
Another proposal would refund at least some of the money ratepayers have already given the private utility owned by SCANA Corp.
But a special committee of senators who met in their own building a short distance away at the Statehouse said while those are feel-good proposals, they might make things worse.
"You're buying yourself a lawsuit and a myriad of problems," Sen. Brad Hutto said.
Several Republican senators agreed with the Democrat from Orangeburg.
"For us to sit here and tell people that we're going to prevent SCANA and Santee Cooper from raising rates is a load of bull," said Sen. Sean Bennett, a Republican from Summerville. "People's rates are going up from this point forward."
State Rep. Peter McCoy of Charleston, who led the special House panel reviewing the unbuilt reactors, has said he fully expects a lawsuit from SCANA, but he doesn't fear the legal action.
SCE&G and state-owned partner Santee Cooper abandoned construction of the two nuclear reactors on July 31, after spending more than $9 billion.
Lawmakers are trying to get bills in line to be passed early in the General Assembly's session that starts in January.
Another bill sent to the House floor Tuesday would eliminate the law that let utilities charge customers for the plants before they produce power.
Rep. Gary Cleary supports the legislation, but asked his colleagues to be careful, reminding them the law passed a decade ago that allowed the utilities to charge before the plants came online was passed in just a few days without careful scrutiny.
"In 2027, I don't want people sitting around this table going — what were those people thinking 10 years ago?" the Republican from Central said.