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Judge keeps rate cuts for failed South Carolina nuclear project in limbo

COLUMBIA — A federal judge refused Thursday to end a lawsuit by South Carolina Electric Gas that also seeks to stop a temporary rate cut for customers who continue to pay for the utility's abandoned nuclear reactor project.

The 15 percent rate cut, retroactive to April, is set to begin appearing on SCE&G bills Tuesday unless a court rules otherwise.

In her 20-page ruling, Childs said the SCANA Corp. subsidiary had a right to sue. The utility alleges the General Assembly did not follow a 2007 state law that should have allowed SCE&G to increase rates to pay for the two nuclear reactors being built at the V.C. Summer plant north of Columbia before any power was generated.

The Cayce-based utility maintains that the law also allowed it to keep charging to pay debt even if the reactors weren't finished. SCE&G and a minority partner, state-owned Santee Cooper, gave up on the project in July 2017 after a decade of planning and construction. It was more than $8 billion in debt.

The Legislature revoked the law this year and also passed a temporary rate cut to end almost all the rate increases passed to pay for the plants. If the rate cut stays, an average SCE&G customer would see around $25 a month taken off their average $163 power bills.

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If allowed to stand, the temporary rate cut will stay until the Public Service Commission sets a permanent rate, likely around the end of this year.

Lawyers for the state House and Senate, as well as for the commission, asked for the lawsuit to be dismissed. They spent much of a two-day hearing on the matter trying to poke holes in SCE&G's claims that the rate cut would financially hobble SCE&G and SCANA.

Items that came up in the hearing included the parent company putting millions of dollars into an irrevocable trust to pay key executives and facilitate the company's planned sale to Dominion Energy of Virginia.

Shareholders approved the deal Tuesday, but they also in a nonbinding vote rejected golden parachutes for top executives if they lose their jobs as a result of the sale to Dominion.

But SCANA officials said those payments are locked in place. Eleven current and former SCANA executives will get paid more than $38 million.

Meg Kinnard of the AP contributed to this report.

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