If you’ve ever wanted to be a utility regulator, now is your time.
Sure, you’d be joining the Public Service Commission in the middle of what’s likely its biggest case ever. And yes, you’d face a 10-figure fiasco with no satisfying solutions.
But hey, they’re hiring.
That’s the message running in South Carolina’s newspapers over the past week or so. In a series of legal notices in the classifieds, the state has put out a call for three open spots on the S.C. Public Service Commission that pay nearly $108,000 a year.
It’s the sort of message that might be missed in a normal year. But in the world of South Carolina utility regulation, this is no normal year.
Of course, the staid language of the legal notice makes no mention of the $9 billion failure of the V.C. Summer nuclear project. But that issue has dominated South Carolina’s attention and the Legislature’s time this year.
The seven-member commission is tasked with resolving just over half of that question. South Carolina Electric & Gas, which the panel oversees, owned 55 percent of the unfinished reactors, and regulators have to decide how much the power company can charge ratepayers for it. The commission doesn’t regulate state-owned Santee Cooper, which owned the rest of the V.C. Summer project.
The financial dilemma involving SCE&G is a tough riddle to solve.
On one side, customers are outraged because the commission approved nine consecutive rate increases to finance the project. SCE&G is charging $37 million a month for the project, almost a fifth of its electric rates.
On the other, the utility says it would be financially crippled by a rate cut, which would cloud the future of an essential service in a third of the state. A full rate reduction would also kill plans by SCE&G owner SCANA Corp. to be acquired by Dominion Energy, a Virginia utility giant.
Dominion has proposed to roll a fifth of the nuclear rates and refund most of the money ratepayers have already sunk into the project. Utility regulators also have to decide whether to bless Dominion’s $14.6 billion purchase of SCANA, one of the largest business transactions in state history.
The Dominion deal, announced in January, dropped into a state that was still roiling over the demise of the V.C. Summer project in July. All that has brought the normally quiet world of utility ratemaking to the fore this year.
So it’s hardly a surprise that Heather Anderson, an attorney who helps run the regulator selection process, has gotten at least a few calls a day about the openings.
Perhaps more surprising is that only a few people have filed their paperwork with the Public Utilities Review Committee, which will pick the new regulators.
In the Second Congressional District, only Elliott Elam Jr., a sitting commissioner and former state consumer advocate, has applied.
In the Sixth District, which runs from Columbia to Charleston, only Gene Gartman Jr. has applied. Gartman runs a nonprofit in Orangeburg and hasn’t held public office. That seat is currently held by Robert Bockman, a University of South Carolina law professor who’s filling in for a commissioner who left for the private sector.
The only contested seat is in the Fourth District in the Upstate, where commissioner Elizabeth Fleming faces two challengers. David McCraw, a restaurateur, and Kevin Newman, an Inman city councilmember and former PSC applicant, have are seeking the job.
Applications are due Monday at noon.
The review committee hasn’t set a timeline to screen candidates, but Anderson says the aim is to have the new regulators selected by May.
But then, like most things in the realm of South Carolina utilities, there’s significant uncertainty around the future of the Public Service Commission.
The S.C. House of Representatives voted last month to cut regulators’ terms short, but the Senate hasn’t yet taken up the measure. If it becomes law as it’s written now, the commission’s newest members will be booted from office in June.