Some people will say anything during a courtship to get what they want — and you know how that usually turns out.
So, yeah, SCE&G customers won’t be getting that $1,000 check Dominion promised last year.
You remember the ads: Tell state lawmakers to support Dominion Energy’s purchase of SCANA, SCE&G’s parent company, and all 720,000 customers will get on average a four-figure rebate.
Well, surprise, the check ain’t in the mail. That deal was dropped in December, but many people missed the news. Instead, they recently received notice that, beginning this month, ratepayers will see their bills plunge by ... 43 cents.
But wait — there’s more! By May, depending on some regulatory malarkey, rates may drop by a total of 99 cents.
State Rep. Wendell Gilliard gives voice to our disdain. “Dominion is coming in on the same tide SCE&G went out on, a tide of disingenuousness and corruption,” he says. “They outright lied.”
Gilliard invited Dominion officials to explain this bait-and-switch, and they’ve promised to appear in Charleston on Feb. 25. He’s also asked the utility to give customers options for their rebate, including that $1,000. That’s not an unreasonable request, but you can bet Dominion will break a lot of hearts. Again.
This is a long, complicated story — and it’s not all Dominion’s fault. But that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve some grief.
All this began when SCE&G squandered billions of dollars jacked from customers to build two nuclear power plants. They eventually abandoned the project, but still expected us to pay off the debacle’s debt. That went over well.
Dominion saw an opportunity to expand its empire with the beleaguered utility, and leveraged public outrage by offering to refund some of the money SCE&G customers lost. That’s the $1,000. Remember, SCE&G continued to charge customers for the dead nuclear project until last summer, when the General Assembly ordered a 15 percent rate cut. That abolished most of the nuclear surcharges and shaved about $22 off the average monthly bill.
When the sale of SCANA reached the Public Service Commission in December, House Speaker Jay Lucas persuaded Dominion to leave the 15 percent rate cut in place. But, you see, the $1,000 rebate was based on Dominion’s plan to only cut rates by 7 percent. When the company agreed to keep rates as-is, realizing an increase would spark another nuclear meltdown, they quietly dropped the rebate checks.
Gilliard says the trouble is that Dominion didn’t do a $1.3 million marketing campaign to announce the change. And state officials have been getting grief ever since. “They flipped the script,” the Charleston lawmaker says. “If a public official had done this, they’d get slapped with ethics charges.”
So now Dominion will spend our money to run ads explaining why we aren’t getting our money back.
Truth is, leaving the higher rate cut in place saves Dominion/SCE&G customers three times as much ... over 20 years.
Rodney Blevins, the president and CEO of Southeast Energy Group (which runs SCANA for Dominion), says the idea was to lower electric bills as much as possible. “While this option eliminated the one-time payment of $1,000 for an average residential customer as we originally proposed, it produced a significantly larger decrease to electric bills,” Blevins said. “We understand some customers will be disappointed that refund checks are not included in the final approved plan, but we believe customers ... will benefit from the lower payments.”
Just not as much as they would benefit from a $1,000 cash infusion.
Gilliard wants Dominion to reconsider, and offer customers two options: Plan A, a 7 percent rate cut and a $1,000 rebate; or Plan B, the 15 percent cut ... and a formal apology.
Dominion officials have agreed to meet with the public from 4-7 p.m. Feb. 25 at the Schoolhouse on the corner of Sycamore and Magnolia in West Ashley. You can count on the apology, but you won’t see their checkbook.
It’s completely understandable that folks are upset. But this should make them even madder: People who get their power from Dominion/SCE&G are still on the hook for billions squandered by SCANA officials during the V.C. Summer boondoggle. And a couple of the guys responsible walked away with more than $1 million in bonuses.
It would take a lot more than 43 cents, or even $1,000, to make anyone forget that.
Reach Brian Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org.