You have to admire those chaps at SCANA — they’ve got guts.
In the past few months, we’ve learned that the poor, beleaguered parent company of South Carolina Electric & Gas:
- Bilked customers out of nearly $2 billion to pay for nuclear plants they couldn’t build.
- Paid executives millions in bonuses for not doing their jobs.
- And wined and dined the Public Service Commission so they could keep raising electric rates while frittering away our money on a project they planned to shut down.
Mere mortals would shrivel in shame over such a scandal. But not SCANA. Even in the face of utter humiliation, they can still muster the energy to be condescending.
On Monday, an attorney for the power company told Circuit Judge John Hayes III that he and other state jurists “lack the expertise” to hear complaints against SCANA.
The attorney has a point. After all, the state’s utility companies didn’t take any judges kayaking or biking in the California mountains, or treat them to a fun day at Sea World San Diego.
And, so far as we know, not one judge has ever played a round of golf in Florida on SCANA’s dime. Or stayed in a Holiday Inn Express.
That's obviously the sort of expertise SCANA is talking about.
Roughing the rate-passer
The occasion for this snubbing of the judiciary was a hearing on one of the five class-action lawsuits filed by SCE&G customers.
Who are, you know, kinda mad that SCANA forced them to finance a project that they then failed to build. And want us to keep paying off for the next 60 years.
But SCE&G said this lawsuit did not belong in a piddly little state court, where such charges might be tainted by an ugly, highly technical, legal term. Such as "fraud."
“Let this play out in front of the Public Service Commission,” SCE&G attorney James Becker told the judge.
He meant no disrespect, surely. He was simply pointing out the Public Service Commission understands these issues so well. Those seven commissioners, who make $100,000 each, are highly skilled individuals with the technical knowledge required to understand the plight of a poor, multi-billion dollar utility company.
After all, our Public Service Commissioners have impressive backgrounds in trucking, the dramatic arts, local politics, selling insurance and high school sports officiating.
That kind of real-world experience, and the calculators on their iPhones, allow them to study complicated requests for a 7 percent increase in electric rates and rule that, instead, the company can only raise rates … let’s see… 3.5 percent.
Public Service Commissioners no doubt learned that at one of the 80 conferences they attended on some utility’s dime in the past five years, as Post and Courier reporter Andrew Brown documented.
Unfortunately, none of those conferences included a plenary session entitled “How to file an ethics report.”
Limited time offer?
Obviously, as SCANA points out, these frivolous class-action suits don’t belong in a state court of law.
They should totally be judged by SCANA’s friends.
Come to think of it, those pesky plaintiffs’ attorneys need not be involved, either.
Daniel Haltiwanger, one of the lawyers for SCE&G ratepayers, had the audacity to suggest that the utility’s customers should get their money back.
Clearly, he doesn’t understand how modern capitalism works. A company, even a monopoly, must be guaranteed quarterly dividends for stockholders or it just simply isn’t fair.
It doesn’t matter how inept they are at their jobs, or that they were the secret authors of legislation that allowed a company — say, SCE&G — to charge all their bills to customers.
They must turn a profit to keep investors fat and happy ... and pay those exorbitant room rates at the Ritz Carlton Lake Oconee.
Basically, SCANA is arguing that the utility's well-being matters far more than a mere 700,000 customers who've been fleeced for a few thousand dollars. Each. Why, that's barely enough for a board of directors meeting at Ruth's Chris.
Judge Hayes politely took SCANA's argument under advisement, and surely he will ultimately rule in their favor.
But he’d better hurry. The General Assembly reconvened Tuesday, and some lawmakers actually want to fire all those experts at the Public Service Commission. Something about failure to disclose legalized bribes ...
You know what that means?
SCANA’s gonna need some new friends.
Reach Brian Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org.