South Carolina lawmakers are at loggerheads over the future of SCANA Corp., but they agree on this much: They'd like its buyer-to-be to hand over more money to clean up South Carolina's failed nuclear project.
Dominion Energy, which has agreed to buy SCANA, was as blunt as ever Friday when its chief executive was asked if he'd be willing to meet legislators halfway.
"No," CEO Thomas Farrell said on a conference call with investors. "No flexibility. We've made our offer."
Farrell hasn't been shy about his plans for SCANA if lawmakers meddle in the electricity rates it collects from ratepayers of its South Carolina Electric & Gas subsidiary. Touch the rates, and Dominion's walking.
His comments Friday came as the debate over SCE&G’s rates crescendos to a finale in the Statehouse. The S.C. House and the Senate have both voted to cut ratepayers' bills, but they can't agree on how low rates should go.
Negotiators from the two chambers have less than two weeks to resolve their differences before the legislative session ends for the year on May 10.
SCE&G collects about $37 million a month from ratepayers for its portion of the failed $9 billion expansion of the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station, which it walked away from last summer. The project was supposed to spark a nuclear energy renaissance in America, but its collapse left South Carolina with a pile of debt and one of the most tangled debacles in its history.
Dominion stepped up in January with a proposal to unwind the fiasco. It proposed to reduce part of the nuclear-related charges and take them off ratepayers' bills sooner than SCE&G planned. It also offered to refund most of the money they had put into the project so far.
Lawmakers have balked, saying they’re unwilling to let Dominion charge another $3.8 billion for the unfinished reactors over the next two decades.
Even if the proposed SCANA sale manages to dodge a political bullet, it will also have to face the state's utility regulators, who will have the final say later this year.
Even so, Dominion insisted Friday that it likes its odds of tying up the deal. Farrell said he's "optimistic" that regulators will look favorably on it.