When Dominion Energy tried to convince the public about its planned merger with S.C. Electric & Gas' parent company a year ago, the Virginia electric utility spent thousands on ads touting $1,000 checks to refund the cost of customers paying for unfinished nuclear reactors.
The checks were taken off the table when Dominion agreed at the end of 2018 to a deeper rate cut over the next 20 years.
But customers still expected the checks — and clamor has grown loud enough that a state lawmaker introduced a bill and state utility regulators are scheduled to talk about the check controversy on Thursday.
Late Wednesday, Dominion filed plans with the Public Service Commission to start a four-week advertising campaign next week explaining why SCE&G's 700,000 customers are not getting checks.
The ads will run on television, in newspapers and on social media. The company did not release the amount being spent on ads.
"You've heard a lot about residential electric customers getting on-average a $1,000 cash payment and a modest bill reduction as a part of the Dominion Energy merger with SCE&G's parent company," the TV ad will say. "Here are the facts. After hearing from policy makers and other key stakeholders, we became aware of significant support for long-term bill relief instead of the short-term fix of a one-time cash payment."
Dominion is already well into another ad campaign introducing itself to SCE&G customers after closing a $14 billion deal to buy Cayce-based SCANA last month.
But the campaign drew complaints for not being clear about what happened to the once-promised $1,000 checks.
State Rep. Wendell Gilliard, R-Charleston, said soon after Dominion shared a fact sheet with the media and customers on Monday that customers saw the decision to skip the checks as a "broken promise."
"They have failed to properly explain their decision in the same manner that they advertised the incentive," he said.
Gilliard wants state utility regulators to give SCE&G customers the choice of getting a check with a smaller rate cut or take the bigger rate cut. He introduced a resolution with a number of black lawmakers.
The state-approved deal without the checks saves customers more money over two decades — $1,700 out of pocket versus $4,000.
But Gilliard fears Dominion could ask for electric rate hikes in the future so he wants to give customers an option get money now if they want.
SCANA became a takeover target after its $9 billion failure to add two reactors at the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station north of Columbia in 2017 with state-owned utility Santee Cooper. SCE&G and Santee Cooper customers were paying for ongoing construction that stopped after a series of cost overruns and construction delays.