This is it. It’s the last day of the legislative session. And SCE&G customers are still paying 18 percent of their monthly power bills toward the $9 billion cost of two failed nuclear reactors that will never be switched on.
It’s time to finally do something about that.
A conference committee composed of state House and Senate members met Wednesday to consider a rate cut for SCE&G customers. They failed to take any action.
The House has approved a full 18 percent rate cut. The Senate has approved a less optimal, but safer 13 percent cut. Both would be temporary measures while state regulators and officials work to further untangle the mess that led to one of South Carolina’s most costly economic disasters.
But it’s time to reach an agreement.
The 18 percent cut appeals to fairness. After all, why should customers continue to pay for something that will never benefit them? It’s outrageous that SCE&G ratepayers have spent an average of $27 per month on the two abandoned reactors for close to a year by now.
The 13 percent cut the Senate wants has the advantage of safety. According to a recent report, that’s the maximum that lawmakers can cut SCE&G customers’ bills without risking financial chaos for the utility’s parent company, SCANA.
Frustrated customers may not be particularly concerned about the financial health of SCANA right now. But they should be. SCANA, and the reliable electricity it supplies, are key components of South Carolina’s larger economy. The state can’t function without power, and throwing SCANA into chaos could end up forcing everyone to pay even higher electric bills in the long run.
Further complicating matters, Gov. Henry McMaster has threatened to veto any rate cut less than the full 18 percent. But that’s almost certainly an empty threat. Vetoing lower power bills for hundreds of thousands of South Carolina residents and businesses would be politically disastrous ahead of the upcoming gubernatorial primary.
Again, the rate cuts in question are temporary. Regulators will have the final say. They should find a way to completely undo the nuclear payments and permanently lower customers’ bills.
But in the meantime, SCE&G ratepayers need relief.
The House and Senate are considering a move that would allow them to keep debating nuclear issues into the summer, after the regular session has ended. There’s no reason to delay this any further and leave customers to pay yet another inflated electric bill. Lawmakers have had since January to come up with a solution. It’s past time.
Take advantage of the last day of the session. Cut rates. Pick a fair 18 percent or a safe 13 percent. Either would provide desperately needed short-term respite from higher power bills — especially as the weather starts to heat up.
Send something to Mr. McMaster. Let regulators continue their work. And save SCE&G customers a few extra dollars now — not later.