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SC lawmakers elect four new regulators to oversee gas, water and electric utilities

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South Carolina lawmakers elected four people to fill seats on the state's Public Service Commission on Wednesday. The first big case for those new utility regulators will be a request by Dominion Energy to hike people's power bills by 7.7 percent. File

South Carolina lawmakers elected four new utility regulators Wednesday and replaced the last remaining member of the Public Service Commission to oversee the failed V.C. Summer nuclear project. 

Members of the House and Senate appointed Carolee Williams, Mike Caston, Headen Thomas and Delton Powers Jr. to the panel, which regulates how much money many South Carolinians pay each month for gas, water and electricity. 

The vote by the full Legislature took just minutes to finalize, but it had been in the work for months. 

A special committee of lawmakers reviewed more than 40 candidates for the four open seats, which are broken up by congressional districts. It determined 10 of the candidates were qualified for the job. 

State legislators made it a priority to change who sits on the commission following the scuttled expansion of the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station in 2017. The PSC members at the time were criticized for allowing S.C. Electric & Gas to raise people's power bills for two new reactors, even as the project struggled with numerous cost overruns and construction delays.

Many of the utility regulators who were on the commission during that time either chose to step down from their seats, declined to run for reelection or were replaced by state lawmakers. 

Randy Randall, who had served on the PSC since 2013, was the only incumbent who was in the running this month. He was found to be qualified for the job but before the House and Senate could vote on Wednesday, he dropped out of the race. 

The new commissioners, who will serve for four years and make more than $130,000 annually, come from varied backgrounds. 

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Williams was most recently a field director for the Conservation Voters of South Carolina, one of the state's environmental groups, and previously worked as a project manager for the city of Charleston's Department of Planning, Preservation and Sustainability. 

Caston owns a consulting business, but for roughly three decades he worked as an engineer and executive for a water district headquartered in Spartanburg. 

Thomas was most recently involved in real estate investment and accounting with several companies. From 1983 to 2006, he worked for Piedmont Natural Gas. That company is now owned by Duke Energy, one of the largest electric and gas providers in South Carolina, and Thomas will be responsible for regulating those operations. 

Powers is an attorney who previously served as an assistant solicitor and has run his own law firm since 1992. He was nearly removed from the PSC election earlier this week. He was accused of violating the rules about how and when candidates could seek out support from lawmakers, but the special committee allowed him to stay in the race. 

There won't be a lot of time for the new PSC members to get comfortable in their new jobs. There are a long list of utility cases waiting for them. 

The PSC is set to review plans from the state's investor-owned electric utilities that will decide what power plants the companies rely on in the coming decades.

They will also need to deal with a proposal from Dominion Energy, the new owner of SCE&G, which seeks to increase the monthly bills for its 753,000 power customers by 7.7 percent. 

Reach Andrew Brown at 843-708-1830 or follow him on Twitter @andy_ed_brown.

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