WEBONLY 012018 -Fortner - sce&g utility bill (copy)

South Carolina Electric & Gas/Provided

COLUMBIA — The South Carolina Senate delayed a final vote Thursday on a plan that clips SCANA's electric rates by 13 percent — a night after they reached a compromise that could drop the average customer's bill by $19 per month. 

The Senate is not returning to Columbia next week, which means the debate over SCANA's charges for the V.C. Summer nuclear project can't be taken up again until April 10.

The delay allowed SCANA's stock to recover after taking an early hit on Thursday morning. 

Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey, R-Edgefield, said he hopes the delay would give SCANA and Dominion an opportunity to "do the right thing" by offering voluntary concessions.

That's very unlikely to happen. 

Gov. Henry McMaster and other lawmakers have demanded the utility eliminate the charges it is collecting for the nuclear reactors for months. The governor has threatened to veto any legislation that doesn't wipe out SCANA's charges completely.

The Post and Courier published a story Thursday about one of SCANA's top officials at V.C. Summer blowing the whistle about SCANA's handling of the nuclear construction project in 2016. The governor's office said the story highlighted the need to cut off the entire $445 million per year SCANA collects for the project. 

"This is just one more reason the Senate should pass the House’s full rate reduction and that the General Assembly should answer the governor’s call to establish a process to sell Santee Cooper," said Bryan Symmes, the governor's spokesperson.  

The utility, in turn, has pushed forward with a plan to merge with Dominion Energy. That deal offers a partial refund and reduction in rates but requires customers to pay another $3.8 billion for the project over the next two decades. 

The Senate voted 26 to 16 for the 13 percent cut to SCANA's rates late Wednesday night. The House continues to push to wipe out the entire 18 percent that SCANA collects for the nuclear reactors. 

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Those differences will have to be worked out between the two bodies if the Senate passes its version of the bill. That's not completely guaranteed yet. 

Part of the reason the Senate did not vote Thursday was because leaders feared opponents of the measure would have tried to draw out the process, threatening to keep senators in Columbia with Easter weekend approaching.

Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, said he would have launched a lengthy filibuster if the vote had come up Thursday because he believes senators haven't had enough time to consider it.

Hutto opposes the rate cut proposal, arguing it would put the state at risk of losing a lawsuit and ending up having to charge taxpayers additional costs. He also expressed concerns about the measure's potential impact on South Carolina's business-friendly reputation.

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

Jamie Lovegrove is a political reporter covering the South Carolina statehouse and congressional delegation. He previously covered Texas politics in Washington for The Dallas Morning News and in Austin for the Texas Tribune.