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SC lawmakers want to extend search for new state utility regulators

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PSCMeeting (copy)

South Carolina lawmakers want to extend the search for the state's next utility regulators on the Public Service Commission. File photo 

State lawmakers want to extend the search for four new utility regulators on the S.C. Public Service Commission in the hope of attracting additional candidates for the jobs. 

A panel of state lawmakers held hearings this week to vet 17 people for the PSC, which charged with regulating gas, water, electric and telecommunications utilities in the state.

The seven commissioners are elected by the Legislature in cycles. The lawmakers on the Public Utilities Review Committee are in charge of scrutinizing each candidate in the lead-up to the elections.   

That's why the legislative panel met for two full days this week. They reviewed the qualifications for each person, examined a test each candidate took and questioned all of them under oath. 

After all of that, they voted to extend the screening process for the jobs, which pay more than $100,000 per year.  

Part of the problem is that only six of the candidates were found to be "qualified" for a seat on the commission.

Those would-be regualtors include George “Robert” Newman, Carolyn “Carolee” Williams, Headen Thomas, Thomas “Tee” Miller Jr., Stephen “Mike” Caston and Comer “Randy” Randall, who is currently on the PSC. 

The rest of the candidates were not given the same stamp of approval. The lawmakers even rejected one of the current utility commissioners, Swain Whitfield, who previously was PSC chairman. But the legislators still labeled him as unqualified for a job he's held for more than a decade. Swain could not be reached for comment Friday.

The search for new utility regulators comes at a tense time for the PSC. The agency has been scrutinized for its earlier oversight of the failed V.C. Summer nuclear project in Fairfield County, where $9 billion was wasted on two unfinished reactors.

More recently, they've come under public pressure for their handling of several cases involving solar power in South Carolina. 

The PSC is likely to be under the microscope in the future too. Duke Energy, for instance, is currently appealing two of the PSC's recent decisions involving electric customers in the Pee Dee and the Upstate.

Dominion Energy plans to file another case by May, which will seek to adjust the monthly electricity bills for more than 722,000 customers with S.C. Electric & Gas.

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