In the grand scheme of SCANA and Santee Cooper’s $9 billion nuclear failure, $1.8 million in consulting fees for work that SCANA subsidiary SCE&G can’t prove actually took place might not seem like a crisis.
In purely financial terms, it’s a tiny fraction of the total customer burden related to the V.C. Summer nuclear facility for two reactors that will never generate power.
But it’s yet another indicator of the apparent contempt with which SCANA treated its ratepayers in the lead-up to abandoning the reactor project in 2017.
It’s also evidence that South Carolina’s watchdogs must be empowered to exercise even greater oversight over the state’s investor-owned utilities.
Last week, The Post and Courier’s Thad Moore reported that SCANA paid $1.8 million over a period of years to former CEO Bill Timmerman for consulting services. But when pressed by the state Office of Regulatory Staff, a watchdog agency, SCE&G couldn’t provide documentation of Mr. Timmerman’s work.
The ORS already managed to save customers from paying $200,000 to Mr. Timmerman in 2016, but it’s now asking that SCANA reimburse ratepayers for the rest of his five-year contract.
Pending any additional evidence, that’s the right move. And it’s a welcome request from the ORS, which must continue to be a strong advocate on electric customers’ behalf as the state Public Service Commission weighs how to hold SCANA responsible for its failed nuclear reactor project.
And while South Carolina’s utility regulators don’t have direct oversight over state-owned Santee Cooper, they should press for SCANA to repay the portion of Mr. Timmerman’s salary that was passed along to Santee Cooper ratepayers and those who buy electricity through affected co-ops as part of their cost-sharing agreement for the nuclear reactors.
It’s still unclear how Santee Cooper will recover its portion of the $9 billion nuclear failure without significantly hiking rates or asking customers to pay higher bills for decades. Neither is a tenable solution.
And selling Santee Cooper assets could put valuable state resources like Lake Moultrie and Lake Marion at risk.
State lawmakers and Gov. Henry McMaster must assess the most reasonable path forward for Santee Cooper, a challenge expected to loom large over the upcoming legislative session starting next year.
Questions remain on the future of SCANA as well.
But no South Carolina ratepayer ought to be expected to pay huge salaries for work that was never done. Neither should they be expected to pay for reactors that won’t ever generate power. And the PSC should rule as such.