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Lawmakers in S.C. House to vote on some nuclear-related bills, but wait on the most controversial

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The South Carolina House plans to take up a number of bills to overhaul the state's utility regulations this week, but lawmakers may wait to vote on legislation to repeal the controversial Base Load Review Act. File/S.C. High Flyer © 2017/Provided

COLUMBIA — Members of the South Carolina House will begin overhauling the state's utility regulations this week, but lawmakers are likely to wait a bit longer to repeal a controversial law that allowed SCANA to charge customers for two unfinished nuclear reactors at V.C. Summer station. 

The House leadership plans to advance several bills this week that were drafted after the two $9 billion reactors in Fairfield County were cancelled over the summer. 

Those bills would strengthen the Office of Regulatory Staff by giving the utility watchdog the power to subpoena documents from utilities. It would create a new state consumer advocate position, which would be charged with representing the interests of utility customers. 

If passed, the legislation would replace the state's current utility regulators on the Public Service Commission who were responsible for overseeing the failed nuclear project during the past decade. 

Rep. Peter McCoy, R-Charleston, said he doesn't expect the House to repeal the Base Load Review Act just yet. That 2007 law allows SCANA, the majority owner of the reactors near Jenkinsville, to continue charging roughly 700,000 electric customers $37 million a month for the useless power plants. 

McCoy, who led a special committee that investigated the state's nuclear fiasco, said the House might wait until the last week in January to gut the controversial law. With a long list of utility-related legislation waiting, McCoy expects the House to vote on one or two bills a week. 

That repeal effort would still need to pass the Senate before it is sent to Gov. Henry McMaster's desk.

Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey said a subcommittee has been set up to review the House's legislation as it is passed. The Edgefield Republican said he planned to move as quickly as possible on that legislation. 

"Anyone of these things could result in extended debate," Massey said. "But it's not something we can sit on. I think you have to move fairly quickly."  

McCoy believes the political momentum is building. 

For months, SCANA has argued it would go bankrupt if lawmakers stopped the company from charging customers for the abandoned reactors. But late last week, the Office of Regulatory Staff released an audit that suggested bankruptcy is unlikely for the Cayce-based utility. 

With SCANA's threat of bankruptcy called into question, McCoy expects more lawmakers to support a repeal of the Base Load Review Act. 

"I think it's helped for sure," McCoy said. 

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