House speaker calls for resignations in wake of V.C. Summer's failure

Published: Aug. 23, 2017 at 10:29 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 24, 2017 at 8:26 AM EDT
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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - House Speaker Jay Lucas is calling for the resignation of one of the state's top utility staffers after hearing testimony on the failed V.C. Summer nuclear project on Wednesday.

Dukes Scott has been the Executive Director of the Office of Regulatory Staff since 2004. That agency is responsible for overseeing utilities in South Carolina, like SCANA, a partner in the failed reactors.

"Although this is ultimately Governor McMaster's decision, I have asked for ORS Executive Director Dukes Scott's resignation today," Lucas said in a statement. "Mr. Scott performed his duties to the best of his ability, but his testimony before the committee raised significant concerns over ORS' management of the VC Summer nuclear project. New leadership, in my opinion, is necessary to assure South Carolina ratepayers that the Office of Regulatory Staff holds their interests in the highest regard. I believe this is the first of many steps that must occur to prevent this type of catastrophe from happening again."

Scott testified on Wednesday before State Representatives, and he also spoke before Senators on Tuesday, as lawmakers investigate what happened at V.C. Summer and try to protect electric customers from high rates.

Scott told the panel he has resorted to taking Xanax, and wouldn't have had to, had the nuclear project succeeded. Scott also said he believes there are good people on his staff at the ORS, but that if he's failed, maybe he shouldn't stay around.

"We've been involved in the regulatory process for the last 12-and-a-half years, I would like to think we did a good job," Scott said during his testimony on Wednesday.

"You're going to have a hard time selling that to the people of South Carolina," Rep. James Smith (D-Richland) interjected.

"Listen, I understand that. I understand that. But I do believe the plan was well-attempted," Scott said.

Meanwhile, state representatives are considering changing the law that allows utility companies to raise rates to fund projects like the reactors at V.C. Summer, the Base Load Review Act.

"Yes. We are responsible for creating this mess," Rep. Kirkman Finlay (R-Richland) said.

Finlay said he's working on changes to that currently but believes there may not be a whole lot of help to ratepayers going forward.

"The best we can do at this point is to agree never to do this again and mitigate the damage we've done," he said.

Smith believes there's a way to change the law and get some funds back to ratepayers. He says South Carolina has some of the highest electric rates in part, because of the nuclear "debacle".

"I believe the authority for us to make changes to the law. Changes that will direct money back to ratepayers. And we have even had legal opinions that have been provided to members of this General Assembly that say we can do that now with the current rates that are currently being drafted," Smith said.

There is a $2.2 billion cost to abandon the project, according to SCANA and Santee Cooper.

"There is opportunity for relief. There are provisions under the law that in which the PSC (Public Service Commission) has the authority to deny the relief requested to abandon," Smith said.

One of the ratepayers who attended the special House panel meeting on Wednesday was doubtful he'd see much of what he's paid-in over the nine rate hikes since 2008.

"Every year, my bill goes up and if you look at the stock market on SCANA and SCE&G, ever since they started on this nuclear project, it's skyrocketed," David Whetsell said. "I would like to see it happen that the ratepayers don't pay more."

Governor Henry McMaster's office responded to the calls for Scott's resignation saying: "Governor McMaster is focused on getting reactors built at VC Summer or getting ratepayers their money back. Dukes Scott is an invaluable member of a team that has met with some of the largest utilities in the world, and these potential buyers must be confident that South Carolina has the regulatory stability and institutional credibility necessary to justify their investment. Any calls for Mr. Scott's resignation would be completely unwarranted."

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