1-VC Summer Sept 18 2017 IMG_0482 for pc-101517-bz-scanaboard (copy)

SCANA Corp. agreed to be sold to Dominion Energy after abandoning the costly and long-delayed expansion of the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station (above) near Jenkinsville. File/Provided.

COLUMBIA — Federal regulators have given the first of several levels of approval to Dominion Energy's proposed merger with embattled South Carolina utility SCANA Corp. after the failure of a multibillion-dollar nuclear project.

The next could come later this month, a year after Cayce-based SCANA abandoned the expansion of the V.C. Summer plant in Fairfield County. 

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ruled late last week that the combination of the company and Dominion "is consistent with the public interest and is authorized."

Richmond, Va.-based Dominion said the merger is contingent upon approval of SCANA's shareholders, who will vote on the matter at a special meeting scheduled for July 31 in Columbia.

The deal also required authorizations from state regulators and the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

South Carolina Electric & Gas Co., a SCANA subsidiary, and state-owned utility Santee Cooper spent more than $9 billion before abandoning construction on a pair of nuclear reactors at the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station near Columbia last July. State and federal authorities are probing the failure, and irate customers have filed lawsuits accusing SCANA of misleading the public during the troubled project's tenure.

Some have worried the merger could be scuttled by lawmakers' removal of a surcharge SCE&G customers have been paying toward the company's debt on the two unfinished reactors. SCE&G customers have paid around $2 billion toward the failed project, about $22 a month for the average user.

Lawmakers this year removed most of that charge, cutting SCE&G's electric rates by 15 percent until the end of this year, after which regulators will set a permanent rate. Gov. Henry McMaster vetoed the bill, saying he favored cutting the entire charge. House and Senate members overrode his veto of the rate cut in just minutes.

SCE&G has filed a federal lawsuit seeking to stop the rate cut. Dominion has offered rebates of around $1,000 to SCE&G customers, a smaller cut in rates and a promise not to raise rates for three years.

The Post and Courier contributed to this report.