Action after nuclear fallout: first signs of legislation offer hope to customers

Action after nuclear fallout: first signs of legislation offer hope to customers

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Some South Carolina Electric and Gas (SCE&G) customers are demanding action from lawmakers.

It's been three months since construction on two nuclear reactors at the V.C. Summer site in Fairfield County was abandoned. However, lawmakers say electric customers have still been paying for the failed project in that time to a tune of some $100 million.

On Monday morning, a panel of state representatives got to work drafting bills to right the wrong they believe the utility company did to customers. Their first, immediate priority is to stop the 18 percent higher electric rates customers have been paying.

The first bill House staff is working to draft would amend the state's Base Load Review Act, which allows utility companies to charge customers higher rates for projects before completion.

The bill the House Utility Ratepayers Protection Committee to prevent customers from paying the increased rates would do three things: immediately prevent the 18 percent going forward, would keep the project's debt and cost of recovery from binge paid for by customers, and enact an "interim rate" which would be the bare-bones cost for just electricity without nuclear rates tied to it. But for now, nothing is set in stone.

"We want to go back to where we were pre-Base Load Review Act. And we want to say that if a company takes on a project like this they have every right and ability to do that, they just simply cannot charge a ratepayer for the cost of that project until that project is completed," panel co-chair Rep. Russell Ott (D-Calhoun) said.

Another bill the panel is working toward includes reforming the state's Office of Regulatory Staff (ORS) to increase the tools for the ORS to investigate a utility company, remove the interest of the "financial integrity of the utility' from the ORS" mission, and to create a consumer advocate appointed by and housed by the Attorney General's office.

As lawmakers met and discussed the changes they want to see, former V.C. Summer site employee and SCE&G customer Jackie Banton hoped for the best for herself and her family.

"My 18-year-old unplugs the TV when we're not watching it to save electricity - the microwave, anything that's not you know in use," Banton says.

Banton, a single mother of two still searching for work, is saving every dollar she can. She's had job offers as far away as in Colorado but wants to remain in the area where her daughter is in school at Columbia College.

"Pay us all back. Or at least, stop increasing rates," she says at lawmakers, hopefully.

The House panel is unsure of refunds for customers, because of the Base Load Review Act (BLRA) that was put on the books about nine years ago, permitting companies to charge the increased rates. The panel is advised a retroactive law attempting to repeal the BLRA altogether could have unintended legal consequences; they instead attempt to amend it.

Banton also hopes construction on the nuclear project could be restarted. The panel believes the decision to abandon or continue, however, rests solely with the private company.

"I was hoping that they would open the site back-up. We could go to work and we could finish the project that we started. If we're not able to do that, then we could sell the material that's out there, recoup some of South Carolina ratepayer money," Banton says.

There are additional bills being drafted to reform the Public Service Commission (PRC) and the state-owned utility company Santee Cooper's Board of Trustees.

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