COLUMBIA — South Carolina utility regulators will decide Friday whether to approve one of the biggest business sales in state history while also determining how much S.C. Electric & Gas customers will pay over the next two decades for two abandoned nuclear reactors at the V.C. Summer station.
The rulings are the culmination of nearly 17 months of controversy since SCE&G and its minority partner, state-run Santee Cooper, halted construction at the Midlands power plant last year after spending $9 billion.
The project failed after lengthy construction delays and huge cost overruns that were caused, in part, by mismanagement from contractors and the utilities, according to an audit and hearing testimony.
The collapse prompted SCE&G parent SCANA Corp., one of South Carolina’s largest publicly traded companies, to agree to be sold to Dominion Energy, a deal that investors believe will go through.
Here's a breakdown of the upcoming decisions in South Carolina's largest business debacle.
What's happening: The S.C. Public Service Commission — a panel of seven regulators appointed by the Legislature — will announce a ruling at 1 p.m. at its office in Columbia.
The decision comes after three weeks of testimony from SCE&G leaders and former employees as well as experts.
What's at stake for power bills: The commission will rule how much SCE&G's 720,000 customers will keep paying for the unfinished reactors in Fairfield County.
Residential customers were paying $27 a month on average for the reactors before lawmakers temporarily cut the rate to about $5 a month this year.
While the commission could cut payments all together, SCE&G ratepayers are likely going to be stuck paying something for the useless power plants because of a 2007 state law, known as the Base Load Review Act, that allowed SCE&G to collect construction costs while work was ongoing.
The law had no provision for refunds or to stop payments if the reactors were not finished.
What's at stake for utilities: The commission also will will determine whether Dominion can buy SCANA, which has operations in South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia. The Richmond, Va.-based energy giant announced its $14.6 billion buyout offer in January.
Dominion has said cutting off all nuclear payments will scuttle the sale and put the South Carolina utility into financial distress.
If SCANA's stock price is any indication, investors and at least one utility analyst are bullish that the deal will be approved. Shares of the Cayce-based company are up about 38 percent to about $48 since hitting their most recent lows in September.
Travis Miller, an energy and utilities equity strategist with Morningstar Research Services, gives the all-stock transaction a 75 percent chance of clearing its final regulatory hurdle this week.
"Dominion's third and latest offer has won support from key stakeholders, giving us confidence that regulators are more likely than not to approve the deal without material changes to the deal's economics," he wrote in research note to investors Tuesday.
Dominion is proposing that affected customers pay $2.3 billion for the failed V.C. Summer expansion over two decades, a figure it says is lower than what SCE&G could offer on its own.
The proposal has the support of S.C. House leaders. It also has backing of lawyers in a class-action lawsuit against the utility, who will settle their case if the commission approves the Dominion deal.
What the ruling will not include: Santee Cooper's rates associated with the failed nuclear project are not involved in the commission's decision Friday. The Moncks Corner-based utility's board decides its rates with no regulatory oversight.
Watch for yourself: Catch a livestream when regulators announce the monumental decisions on South Carolina ETV's website at www.scetv.org/live/public-service-commission.