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S.C. regulators could consider temporary SCE&G rate cut before resolving nuclear fiasco

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Work on two reactors at the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station came to a halt last July. State regulators could consider cutting SCE&G's rates temporarily while they hash out a solution to the project's costs. File/Grace Beahm/Staff

The Legislature has spent months debating whether to cut South Carolina Electric & Gas ratepayers' power bills, so a group of manufacturers is trying a new tack: asking regulators to beat them to the punch.

The proposal, filed late last week by the South Carolina Energy Users Committee, opens a new front in the fight over SCE&G's electric rates. It asks regulators to temporarily slash ratepayers' bills while they hash out a permanent solution to the state's nuclear fiasco.

The motion parallels a bill still pending in the state Senate: It would cut electric rates by 13 percent — about $19 a month for the typical household — until utility regulators decide whether SCE&G can charge customers for its failed V.C. Summer nuclear project over the next two decades.

Both proposals were inspired in part by a study released last month that found SCE&G could slash its rates without risking financial distress. The Senate-commissioned study recommended that SCE&G's parent company could stop paying dividends to its shareholders to cover the lost revenue.

The Energy Users Committee, which represents dozens of the state's largest manufacturers, says it ultimately wants regulators to hand down a bigger rate cut and make it permanent. The nuclear project accounts for almost a fifth of SCE&G's electric rates, about $27 a month per home.

But it will take months for regulators on the Public Service Commission to make that decision, and the group says it wants them to order some savings in the meantime.

"Shareholders have benefited disproportionately from the failed nuclear construction," Columbia attorney Scott Elliott wrote in the motion. "Ratepayers are entitled to protection from any further injury from SCE&G's failures."

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The Public Service Commission hasn't yet scheduled a hearing on the proposal. Elliott says he filed the motion to spur the commission to act nine months after the nuclear project was called off.

The Legislature's proposal faces an unclear path, too. The Senate is wary of eliminating all of SCE&G's nuclear rates, but the House of Representatives and Gov. Henry McMaster have insisted on rolling back the entire $37 million a month the power company collects for the unfinished reactors.

If either comes to pass, the temporary rate cut could scuttle Dominion Energy's plans to buy SCE&G's parent company. Dominion spokesman Chet Wade said the company's threat to walk from the deal stands on whether the rate reduction is ordered by the Legislature or regulators.

And regardless of which body moves to cut rates, SCE&G is expected to challenge the idea in court, though the power company didn't answer questions about its plans to fight the manufacturers' motion.

"We look forward to the opportunity to further discuss the abandonment decision, along with the factors that supported it, as part of a public hearing before the Public Service Commission of South Carolina later this year," SCE&G spokeswoman Rhonda O'Banion said.

Andrew Brown of The Post and Courier contributed to this report.

Reach Thad Moore at 843-937-5703. Follow him on Twitter @thadmoore.

Watchdog and Public Service reporter

Thad Moore is a reporter on The Post and Courier’s Watchdog and Public Service team, a native of Columbia and a graduate of the University of South Carolina. His career at the newspaper started on the business desk in 2016.

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