Of course SCE&G electric customers should have their rates cut to save them from continuing to pay 18 percent of their monthly bills toward two nuclear reactors that will never be completed.
It’s understandable that Gov. Henry McMaster has threatened to veto legislation that doesn’t cut the full 18 percent related to the abandoned reactors. It’s not surprising that the state House voted Wednesday to reject a Senate plan that would have cut just 13 percent of customers’ bills.
“By allowing SCANA to continue to collect money from hardworking SCE&G ratepayers for a failed and fraudulent nuclear project, the Senate is sending a clear message that it prioritizes big business over South Carolina families,” House Speaker Jay Lucas said in a statement after the vote.
“It defies logic, it defies common sense and it defies good faith to require the people of South Carolina to pay for something that they’re not going to get — particularly after they’ve been paying for it for years,” Gov. McMaster said.
There is truth to both statements. But Mr. McMaster, Mr. Lucas and state representatives would do well to consider that a 13 percent rate cut is much better than no rate cut at all. And Wednesday’s House vote raises that troubling possibility.
Besides, the Senate number isn’t arbitrary. It’s based on a study that showed that the Legislature could temporarily cut as much as 13 percent of SCE&G customers’ bills without risking the financial health of its parent company, SCANA.
And as righteous as it might feel to slash rates by as much as possible, it’s a risky proposition. South Carolina residents and businesses depend on reliable electric power. Bankrupting SCANA could throw the state’s economy into chaos and lead to higher rates for customers in the long run.
That doesn’t mean ratepayers don’t merit a full rate cut eventually — and possibly additional measures to refund the money they have already paid toward the failed reactors.
But it would be more sensible to leave that to state regulators, law enforcement and the courts, all of which are investigating the matter. They will have the final say on the prudency and legality of the reactor project and the way it was managed. Any rate cut imposed by legislation would almost certainly be only temporary.
The rate cut question will now go to a conference committee, in which three representatives and three senators will attempt to hash out their differences and come to an agreement. There are seven days left in the legislative session. Time is of the essence.
Indeed, customers have already paid 18 percent of their bills toward the failed project every month for nine months since the reactors were abandoned last summer. A rate cut is desperately needed before the next bills are sent out.
The state Legislature has accomplished little concrete reform this year with regards to one of South Carolina’s largest-ever economic disasters. It would be another disaster if the legislative session were to end without a compromise that cuts customer bills without unduly risking the state economy.