South Carolina Statehouse

The South Carolina House continues to advance utility regulatory changes as the Senate begins deliberating on how to respond to the cancellation of two $9 billion nuclear reactors at V.C. Summer. File

You’d think SCANA wouldn’t have enough power in South Carolina these days to charge your cellphone.

But they showed us.

Last week, SCANA and Duke Energy got together and killed legislation that would have allowed residents to defray more of their power costs by using solar energy.

It was, as GOP state Rep. Peter McCoy of Charleston said, “frustrating.”

McCoy, who led the investigation into the nuclear power plant fiasco that has state residents on the hook for billions of wasted dollars, said the solar vote shows that the utilities still run the state.

South Carolina residents pay some of the highest electric rates in the country. A decade ago, ratepayers began to subsidize nuclear plants that were supposed to lower those bills.

But SCANA squandered that money, handing out dividends and bonuses — and never got around to finishing the plants.

In fact, they willfully hid their lack of progress from state regulators. Now they want us to keep paying their bills for another 20, or perhaps 60, years.

Their credibility should be shot. But they still got their way.

“Why are we going to continue to reward them?” McCoy asks.

Good question. Here’s another one:

The state is currently studying the idea of selling South Carolina-owned Santee Cooper to another private utility.

Do we really want to sic another of these soulless Wall Street dividend factories on South Carolina residents?

Not in our interest

This solar meltdown is illuminating.

The House had given preliminary approval to a bill from Democratic Rep. James Smith, a candidate for governor, that removed the 2 percent cap on solar power in the state. The law would have allowed a growing industry to keep expanding.

But it was going to cut into the profits of SCANA and Duke, so they got some of their favorite lawmakers to demand a two-thirds vote for final reading.

How? Well, the solar plan was tax-exempt, which allowed opponents to demand the higher vote margin.

The utility companies argued removing the solar cap would force non-solar customers to subsidize people who use the sun’s rays to harness energy.

No, the truth is it would have cut into SCANA's and Duke's profits.

As McCoy notes, they could have cut executive bonuses by 10 percent to make up for it. But the utilities admitted they would just raise rates on everyone else to make sure they kept making the cash to pass on to shareholders.

That is brazen beyond words.

They are perfectly willing to kill an industry that employees up to 3,000 people statewide and ignore a cheaper method of generating energy just to make the nut for their investors.

After the nuke plant debacle, you’d think SCANA couldn't get a callback from most lawmakers.

But industry lobbyists are still powerful enough to get anti-solar legislation rammed through the House committee process and onto the House floor in five days.

The Legislature normally can't pass a resolution honoring a volleyball team that fast.

McCoy killed the anti-solar bill but couldn’t stop over-the-weekend lobbying from undermining Smith's bipartisan, pro-solar power bill.

Funny thing is, the utilities are buying some of these lawmakers with all that extra money ratepayers dish out every month.

Study hard ...

Back in January, the House voted to stop SCANA from collecting nuclear debt from customers.

Which made it look like the utility had lost all juice with the General Assembly. Justifiably so.

But the Senate has yet to act, fearful it will spark a lawsuit, bankrupt the utility or derail a sale of SCANA — SCE&G’s parent company.

Which means some lawmakers are willing to let you continue paying $27 a month toward malfeasance until the Public Service Commission addresses this mess ... in December.

McCoy doubts the PSC will even cut the payments completely then. Which is a sound prediction.

This has emboldened utilities enough to start throwing their weight around, again. And that's troubling.

Makes you wonder how smart it would be to sell Santee Cooper, which the state set up in the first half of the 20th century to provide electricity to rural parts of the state.

Some conservatives say the state shouldn’t be in the utility business. Fair point. But at least right now the state has some control over Santee Cooper.

The alternative is selling it to a private company. And private utilities continue to prove they are more interested in stuffing cash in investors' pockets than providing affordable power.

The people studying a Santee Cooper sale need to think hard about inviting another one of these companies into the state.

And maybe they should pull the plug on the idea.

Reach Brian Hicks at bhicks@postandcourier.com.