COLUMBIA — The S.C. Senate introduced a spate of legislation Wednesday in response to the cancellation of two unfinished nuclear reactors at V.C. Summer.
The proposals, to be taken up after the session starts Jan. 9, would stop SCANA and Santee Cooper, the owners of the Westinghouse-designed reactors, from increasing customers bills to pay for the $9 billion wasted on the canceled project.
The effort would also cut 18 percent off the monthly bills for SCANA customers, which currently covers the ongoing financing costs for the reactors. And it would drop Santee Cooper's electric rates by 4.3 percent — the amount currently collected every month to cover the $4 billion in bonds that the company issued for the project.
Like similar legislation advanced in the House, state senators also want to give the Office of Regulatory Staff — the state's utility watchdog agency — the ability to subpoena documents from utilities. And they are suggesting penalties for companies that don't supply state regulators with important documents and information.
Those proposals stem from a 2016 audit of the construction at V.C. Summer, which SCANA failed to share with the Office of Regulatory Staff. The audit highlighted serious engineering, construction and oversight failures at the nuclear site but was never released to the public until Gov. Henry McMaster obtained the critical report from state-run Santee Cooper.
The Senate also wants to reduce the size of the S.C. Public Service Commission from seven members to five. They also want to increase the pay for those utility regulators.
The commission was in charge of overseeing the troubled nuclear construction project over the past decade, but lawmakers hope increasing the compensation for the utility commissioners will attract more qualified candidates.
The senators also want to create a new consumer advocacy agency that will represent utility customers in front of the commission. But unlike the House, which wants to place the new position under the Attorney General's Office, the Senate wants it to exist alongside the Office of Regulatory Staff.
When it comes to state-owned Santee Cooper, senators are proposing legislation to increase legislative oversight of the bonds that the public utility issues. The state-run utility currently has more than $8 billion in outstanding bond debt — $4 billion of which is tied to the V.C. Summer project.
They also want to stop Santee Cooper from offering any more retirement packages, like the $800,000 annual parachute provided to Lonnie Carter, the utility's former CEO who retired shortly after the nuclear project cancellation. The lawmakers want Santee Cooper's retirement deals to be managed by the state's Public Employee Benefit Authority, which handles pension programs.
Those changes might not matter if McMaster and other lawmakers succeed in selling Santee Cooper, which supplies a bulk of power to the state's 20 electric cooperatives.
In another bill, the senators are asking that an independent valuation of Santee Cooper be conducted. That valuation would provide a benchmark for potential buyers as McMaster continues to pitch the public utility to some of the country's largest for-profit utilities.
The Senate bills were filed weeks after representatives in the South Carolina House advanced similar legislation following the abandonment of the power plants in Fairfield County that cost nearly 6,000 employees their jobs.
Most of the Senate legislation was sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey, R-Edgefield, and Minority Leader Nikki Setzler, D-West Columbia. Both of them led a special committee that investigated the nuclear cancellation.