On Tuesday, SCANA Corp. briefed the Public Service Commission on its decision to halt construction on the V.C. Summer Nuclear Plant in Fairfield County, S.C. Santee Cooper, a publicly held S.C. utility, and SCE&G backed out of the project, leaving their employees and contractors without jobs. A risky bet to improve the state’s base load capacity for power didn’t pay off.
Unless you’re a SCANA shareholder or executive.
Since the announcement, more than 5,000 employees have been let go, with insufficient severance packages and no assistance for technical job retraining. While their executives make salaries worth millions, South Carolina workers are left with a handshake and a prayer. The citizens of South Carolina are being asked to pay off SCANA’s shareholders for a deal doomed to fail.
The stock price of SCANA, SCE&G’s parent company, however, has increased by more than 10 percent. SCANA profitability has soared as they’ve already collected $2 billion through rate increases since 2008 for the yet-to-be completed facility and are planning to collect $2.2 billion more thanks to the 2007 Base Load Review Act.
Our legislators are demanding answers. Wednesday morning, 10 Democrats were joined by several of their Republican colleagues to form the Energy Caucus, which will take the lead on reforming the Public Service Commission and our public utilities.
“The only responsible thing to do is understand how we got here and make sure we never get here again,” said Rep. James Smith, D-Columbia, who is helping to organize the bipartisan group of lawmakers.
Their hard work is going to be crucial in the months ahead as they strive to bring real change to the energy infrastructure in this state. At the South Carolina Democratic Party, we are beyond proud of Sens. Margie Bright Matthews, Mia McLeod, Vincent Sheheen and Thomas McElveen, and House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford, House Assistant Minority Leader Russell Ott, Reps. Beth Bernstein, Laurie Funderburk, James Smith, and Leon Stavrinakis for taking a stand on this issue that affects every South Carolinian.
SCANA, Santee Cooper, the Public Service Commission and Gov. Henry McMaster also have the ability to make much of this right. Both SCANA and Santee Cooper can protect their customers by refunding the $2 billion in rate hikes they’ve collected for the uncompleted plant and by returning rates to what they were nearly a decade ago. Their executives should return and forgo any bonuses related to the project. As a for-profit company, SCANA should bear the burden for their mistakes, not the citizens of South Carolina.
The governor should follow up his call for exhaustive hearings by asking the members of the Santee Cooper board to resign. They have failed the people of South Carolina, and our citizens deserve a fresh start.
The members of the Public Service Commission should resign, as well. They have voted for nine rate increases relating to this project and have neglected their duty to the people of South Carolina.
Gov. Henry McMaster should also take the immediate step to improve the lives of the workers involved by tasking the Department of Employment and Workforce with organizing emergency job placement stations across the Midlands to help 5,100 of South Carolina’s best employees. These workers deserve our help.
The Base Load Review Act passed in 2007 has allowed utilities to pass their future costs on to ratepayers to the tune of $2 billion. The Republicans control the Senate, the House, and the constitutional offices of the state; they have the ability to act now to address the crisis. Either way, the Democrats will be leading the charge for reform.
Trav Robertson is chair of the South Carolina Democratic Party.