So, it turns out SCE&G didn’t really squander $2 billion of customer money on those scuttled nuclear power plants.
It was really more like $1.34 billion — they took the rest in profit.
Yes, since this nuclear meltdown began nearly a decade ago, SCANA has put more than $660 million into dividends, performance (cough) bonuses and golden parachutes for the executives who will soon bail on this Hindenburg of a utility.
The Post and Courier’s Andrew Brown and Thad Moore reported last week the company set up a $110 million irrevocable trust to provide severance for 11 current and former SCANA executives should the company be sold to Dominion Energy.
Which, coincidentally, some of those same folks have been promoting relentlessly.
This news came just after the release of a deposition from the utility’s former accountant, who says three of those 11 people — who, combined, stand to clear nearly $14 million — urged her to lie to state regulators about the health of the V.C. Summer project.
“I’ve been a prosecutor and a criminal defense lawyer for a long time,” says state Rep. Peter McCoy, “and I’ve seen people indicted for a lot less than this. I’m not sure how they look at themselves in the mirror every morning.”
Eh, they probably have servants for that.
Do the math
See if this adds up.
Most estimates are that SCE&G’s 700,000 customers have paid an average of $2,857 toward the unfinished nuclear plants the company abandoned one year ago this week.
Of that amount, nearly $950 — one-third — didn’t end up in a Fairfield County hole, but in somebody’s pocket.
Or a trust fund that no one will ever touch unless the feds convict someone of a crime that requires restitution be paid.
But to hear SCE&G attorneys tell it in federal court last week, they are the ones who've been deprived of their constitutional rights. They say the Legislature’s demand they cut electric rates by 15 percent is vindictive, it's unfair, and a bully move that could — gasp — slash investors’ return on their equity.
Yeah, they really have no shame.
“We are here because the General Assembly has changed the rules of the game after the game has been played,” SCE&G attorney David Balser said.
Funny he called this a “game,” seeing as we’re the ones being played.
Although the 2007 Base Load Review Act gave SCANA the authority to bill customers for nuke plants as they were — or weren’t — built, even that overly generous legislation had safeguards.
It required any qualifying project to include a realistic schedule and reasonable estimate of costs, neither of which SCANA had (as the un-doctored documents show).
And, under the infamous BLRA, the state is allowed to stop payments if the utility was to act “imprudently.”
Evidence suggests the utility misled state regulators and fed them phony numbers to keep charging customers that 18 percent surcharge.
Nothing prudent about that.
To give you an idea of how much money South Carolina residents have lost in this fiasco, consider another bit of math:
If SCANA had merely given all the money to the 5,000 V.C. Summer construction workers it unceremoniously, and without warning, laid off last year, they would've gotten $400,000.
This is such a monumental case of malfeasance that it's no wonder SCANA shareholders voted in favor of selling the company to Dominion last week. Interestingly, they rejected the golden parachutes for executives.
But company officials said sorry, those payments are guaranteed by contract. Too bad the state doesn’t have attorneys as slick as SCE&G’s.
Over the objections of state attorneys, a federal judge last week agreed to consider SCANA’s request for an injunction against the involuntary rate rollback. Doesn’t mean they’ll win, but still. Don't count on lower power bills just yet.
McCoy believes the testimony of the company’s former accountant is the linchpin that will give state and federal law enforcement enough evidence to start filing criminal fraud and conspiracy charges. State Sen. Sandy Senn agrees.
"The feds usually aren't very quick, but when the handcuffs come, it'll be because they'll have a good case," Senn says.
So perhaps everyone will eventually get their money back. When the Hindenburg flies again.
But hey, if the Dominion deal goes through, the company has promised to refund an average of $1,000 to each of SCE&G’s 700,000 customers.
The checks will come in right before Dominion starts charging them an incremental $2,600 each to pay the debt on this inherited nuclear meltdown.
That plan is so genius it probably netted someone a really nice bonus.
Reach Brian Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org.