V.C. Summer sign

A College of Charleston astrophysicist has discovered that a collapsing star emits the power to turn back time.

Do you know what this means?

We now have exactly one way to ensure your SCE&G bill remains as low as it was in August.

There was rejoicing across the land last month — well, at least among the 700,000-plus households that get their electricity from the SCANA subsidiary. A federal judge sided with the state Legislature and Public Service Commission and ordered SCE&G to reduce rates by 15 percent.

The company was also forced to refund the same amount for the previous four months. As a result, many people saw their bill drop by more than $100.

Which briefly put our power costs only slightly higher than the average paid by people in other states.

But the September bills will only be 15 percent lower than usual. Without the additional rebate, some folks will no doubt feel like rates are going back up — and start raising Cain again.

Don’t worry, rates haven’t gone back up. Not yet, anyway.

That is going to depend on a series of PSC meetings about Dominion Energy’s impending purchase of SCE&G.

Paying for nothing

This week, the Public Service Commission will continue its consideration of Dominion’s proposal to buy SCANA.

The Virginia-based company has offered SCE&G customers an average of $1,000 per household as reimbursement for some of the money already shelled out for those two Fairfield County nuclear plants that were abandoned more than a year ago.

It’s all a bit much. State Sen. Sandy Senn says the bombardment of ads promoting that deal remind her of someone trying to lure children into a van with the promise of candy.

“I don’t think we’ve gotten their highest or best offer yet,” Senn says.

That’s because the fine print in the Dominion deals calls for the company to continue charging customers for the debt incurred in that fiasco — albeit at a reduced rate.

Over the next two decades, every household currently served by SCE&G would pay Dominion another $4,000 for something that will never be built.

Doesn’t seem quite fair, does it?

The federal judge, who ruled against SCANA in early August, didn’t seem to think so. U.S. District Court Judge Michelle Childs said in her order that the company might have to refund another $444 million, the sum total of all nuclear charges collected since SCANA abandoned the project in July 2017.

The judge noted the 2007 Base Load Review Act, which allowed the utility to use its customers like a credit card, dictated a measure of prudence. Since SCANA had given up on the plant, Judge Childs reasoned, it might not have been prudent to keep charging people for it.

You think?

But that could happen if the PSC approves the Dominion deal as proposed.

A moment in time

A series of hidden reports, evidence of potentially cooked books and the testimony of a former SCANA executive all suggest SCANA acted imprudently for years before calling it quits on the V.C. Summer project.

If all that information — much of it unearthed by The Post and Courier’s Andrew Brown and Thad Moore — adds up to the legal definition of imprudence, the Legislature, PSC and the courts could order more refunds to customers.

But that’s a long shot, and if the Dominion deal goes through, forget it. Shareholders get a windfall, SCANA executives get golden parachutes and everyone from Charleston to Columbia keeps paying for others’ mistakes.

The best we can hope for here is probably greater scrutiny of future rate increases, which seems to be in the stars.

Some state lawmakers have suggested it might be better for the PSC to reject the Dominion deal and force SCANA to clean up its own nuclear meltdown. And if it goes bankrupt, well, it’s not like we wouldn’t get electricity.

SCE&G customers might see more relief before long, even if it’s just that $1,000 Dominion rebate, but lawmakers privately concede it’s just about impossible customers will ever recoup all their money.

Unless, of course, we can apply astrophysicist Jon Hakkila’s theory and turn back time to 2007, when a majority of that Legislature foolishly gave corporate blowhards the legal standing to pick our pockets.

All we need is a giant ball of gas on its way out. Well, besides the obvious ones.

Reach Brian Hicks at bhicks@postandcourier.com.

Reach Brian Hicks at bhicks@postandcourier.com.