Business coalition to pressure SCE&G on rate hikes

SCE&G and Santee Cooper are adding two reactors to their existing V.C. Summer Nuclear Station (above) in Fairfield County, north of Columbia.

The S.C. Small Business Chamber of Commerce is stepping up its fight against South Carolina Electric & Gas’ annual rate increases to help pay for new reactors at the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station near Jenkinsville.

Frank Knapp, the chamber’s president and CEO, will be among state business leaders announcing a coalition opposing the utility’s plans to raise rates by more than 3 percent this year. If approved, it will be the ninth rate increase related to the nuclear plant and the 22nd increase overall for SCE&G customers since 2009.

The coalition, which will be formally introduced during a media event in Columbia, includes: the chamber; Kingdom Living Temple; the S.C. chapter of National Association of Social Workers; New Alpha Community Development Corp.; the South Carolina League of Women Voters; the South Carolina Sierra Club; Sustainable Midlands; and the Whitney M. Slater Foundation.

Knapp said he expects more organizations to join before Monday’s news conference. Those interested in joining can email sbchamber@scsbc.org.

Knapp has been working with consultants to find a way to amend the state’s Base Load Review Act, a 2008 law that lets SCE&G charge its customers for construction as the nuclear project proceeds. Knapp called the current law a “blank check” for the utility and said there are no protections for consumers.

“Criticism of SCE&G’s request and the (state) Public Service Commission’s past willingness to approve previous (rate hike) petitions has been building,” the chamber said in a statement. “If the requests are approved, the nuclear plant will be 43 percent over the original budget and SCE&G customers will have had their electricity rates increased by about 20 percent since 2009 just to pay for construction financing costs.”

SCE&G says its financing method will save consumers billions of dollars in future utility rates during the life of the nuclear reactors.

The V.C. Summer project has been plagued by cost overruns and delays. SCE&G asked state regulators earlier this year to approve an additional $852 million in construction costs for the project, which has ballooned from $10 billion to $14 billion.

SCE&G customers have already paid about $1.1 billion in higher electric bills to finance the construction.

The most recent proposal, which needs the commission’s approval, would boost residential customers’ rates by 3.1, or an average of $4.44 per bill, according to SCE&G. The utility says that amount will be more than offset by lower fuel costs that were passed along to consumers earlier this year.

Santee Cooper’s customers and roughly 1.5 million people who get their power from the state’s electric cooperatives — which, in turn, get their electricity from Santee Cooper — also will feel the impact of higher construction costs. The Moncks Corner-based, state-owned power utility owns 45 percent of the Midlands nuclear plant.

Reach David Wren at 843-937-5550 or on Twitter at @David_Wren_