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Public gets say on SCE&G at panel hearing

Government
Travis Boland
  • Travis Boland
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The S.C. Public Service Commission heard testimony on S.C. Electric & Gas rates and a possible business combination between parent company SCANA Corp. and Dominion Energy on Monday in Columbia at the first of three public hearings.

The PSC is set to decide rate relief questions related to the abandoned nuclear reactors at the V.C. Summer power station by December. In June, the commission and the S.C. General Assembly enacted legislation giving SCE&G customers a temporary 15% reduction in their electric bills.

Two more forums will be held next month, in Aiken and in the Lowcountry. The PSC wants to hear from residents and ratepayers in advance of taking up the rate relief and merger issues next month.

Before Monday’s testimony began at the Saluda Building at Synergy Business Park at 101 Executive Center Drive, SCE&G counsel Matthew Gissendanner objected to the proceeding.

“SCE&G does not know who may testify or what witnesses may testify about,” Gissendanner said. “The party of record must identify witnesses in advance to ensure other parties have a chance to respond, and that is not the case here. The company is denied due process of law.”

The commission said it would take the objection under advisement. Jeffrey Nelson, director of legal services for the S.C. Office of Regulatory Staff, wanted the chance to respond to the objection. Both parties agreed SCE&G would submit written objections for the ORS to consider.

Many at Monday’s hearing shared stories of how they have been affected by the nine rate increases SCANA requested from state regulators and received during the decades-long construction of the twin nuclear reactors. The project, co-owned by SCE&G and state-owned utility Santee Cooper, was abandoned in July 2017 after a series of rising costs and mounting delays.

Ratepayer Lorraine Simmons said SCE&G consumers were taken advantage of.

“No apologies or restitution has been offered to consumers,” Simmons said. “SCE&G tried to block a temporary rate reduction approved by the courts, which only adds insult to injury. The right thing to do is total restitution to its victims and to make the temporary 15% rate reduction permanent.”

Jewell Patterson told the commissioners that a deal between SCANA and Dominion should not go through until SCANA corrects mistakes made in the V.C. Summer project.

“Executives at SCANA should be held accountable,” Patterson said. “We should not have to pay any more money for those reactors.”

Eric Boomhower, SCANA director of public affairs and corporate communications, said after the hearing that the Cayce-based utility appreciates public input.

“These forums are an important part of the process, and we support them going forward,” Boomhower said. “This is just one step.”

Virginia-based Dominion has proposed acquiring SCANA in a $14.6 billion deal that it says will result in an average refund of around $1,000 to SCE&G customers and will shorten the time frame for ratepayers to shoulder V.C. Summer-related debt.

“We believe that the S.C. Public Service Commission’s hearings will provide an excellent opportunity for the public to voice their opinions on South Carolina’s energy future,” Dominion said in a statement. “Dominion Energy respects the PSC process and will engage with the commission and the Office of Regulatory Staff at the appropriate time at the November hearings.”

The additional PSC public hearings will be held Oct. 8 at the Aiken County Government Center and Oct. 15 at the Lonnie Hamilton III Public Services Building in North Charleston. Both hearings begin at 6 p.m.

Reach Travis Boland at colanews@scbiznews.com.

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