House passes bill that would remove SCANA's nuclear surcharge from ratepayer bills

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - The South Carolina House of Representatives has passed a bill they are calling the "first step to relief" for ratepayers who saw their power bills go up in the wake of the construction and eventual cancellation of the VC Summer project.

By a vote of 119-1, the House voted in favor of the act that would, according to House officials, drop the 18 percent nuclear surcharge on SCE&G customers' bills to 0 percent and pushing the Public Service Commission to keep rates low while SCANA's merger with Dominion Power is completed.

House Speaker Jay Lucas praised the passage of the bill after his own speech on the House floor received raucous applause.

"Since last August, the House has worked diligently to develop a responsible plan forward that protects ratepayers and prevents them from paying for a failed nuclear project. Today, our members followed through with our commitment to halt SCE&G from recouping more of its customers' hard-earned dollars for the failed VC Summer nuclear project," Lucas said in a statement.

"Once today's bill is signed into law, consumers can rest assured that utility companies will never take advantage of ratepayers' trust under the Base Load Review Act again. Setting the nuclear premium rate to zero percent provides South Carolina ratepayers with immediate relief while private sector business negotiations continue before the Public Service Commission. As this innovative approach works its way through the legislative process, I am hopeful the Senate will act quickly in an effort to protect ratepayers from corporate greed."

One Columbia business owner says he is happy to hear this news. Eddie Wales, owner of Motor Supply Bistro in Columbia, would save more than $500 per month.

"Our bill averages around $3,000 a month, so it's significant," Wales said. "Heating, lights, stove, refrigeration, so we probably use more than most. The cost of your electric bill is the cost of doing business."

The bill also repeals the Base Load Review Act, the mechanism that was used by SCANA and Santee Cooper to raise rates ahead of construction on the project.

"And we are taking the position that it would be best for us to go back to the way it was before where a utility would ultimately have to construct the project and ensure that it was in use before they started charging the customers," Rep. Russell Ott said.

The utility company Dominion Energy, which is looking to merge with SCE&G, says this would threaten that deal. They want to give one-time refunds to ratepayers this fall.

"I can't impact that, but I can impact the rates that I think are being unfairly paid by the citizens of this state."

That bill still has to pass the Senate, to become law. But the chances are looking good. The governor's office also told me he would sign it, as is.

Dominion Energy released a statement about the bill, saying:

We did not see the proposed changes to South Carolina House Bill 4375 prior to introduction today, and are in the process of reviewing them.

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