COLUMBIA — During a frantic day in the capital, South Carolina lawmakers and the state's utility regulators set the table for what is now expected to be a year-long battle over SCANA's handling of the failed V.C. Summer nuclear project.
The state Senate voted unanimously Thursday to give utility regulators on the Public Service Commission until the end of the year to scrutinize the decision-making at V.C. Summer and to review Dominion's proposed $14.6 billion takeover of SCANA.
At the same time, the House passed a bill requiring several of those utility regulators to be replaced before the commission can decide whether SCANA or its more than 700,000 electric customers foot the bill for the unfinished reactors in the coming decades.
Both of those plans need to be approved by the other legislative chamber before they go into effect.
But if they're passed, the legislative initiatives will play a huge role in determining the outcome of one of the worst financial failures in South Carolina history. It could also foil SCANA's and Dominion's attempts to have their proposed deal authorized by the end of September.
The House's bill, which passed 108-1, calls for setting stricter ethics standards for the Public Service Commission and removes sitting commissioners on a staggered schedule.
Three commissioners could be replaced this summer and the remaining four would be removed next year. The terms for the commissioners would also be reduced from six to four years.
"It's a good step forward in helping correct the issue that we all went through and the state's still going through when it comes to the nuclear disaster," said Rep. Peter McCoy, R-Charleston, who led a special committee that devised legislative fixes after the nuclear project fell apart.
The Post and Courier uncovered late last year that utility associations and other groups picked up the tab for nearly $140,000 in conference expenses, meals and other perks for South Carolina’s public service commissioners over the past five years.
That revelation, McCoy said, "played a huge role" in further convincing lawmakers that they needed to clamp down on ethical boundaries for commissioners and require more disclosures.
Lawmakers, however, weren't the only ones making decisions on Thursday. The Public Service Commission had business of its own.
The state's seven utility commissioners voted unanimously during a business meeting to give the Office of Regulatory Staff — the state's utility watchdog — more time to hire an accounting firm that will review SCANA’s finances and scrutinize the company's claims of imminent bankruptcy.
"What I really want is a study that properly reflects the financial health of the company," said Commissioner Elizabeth Flemming.
State lawmakers and officials have been requesting a thorough, independent analysis of SCANA's finances for months. The uncertainty surrounding SCANA's finances is a large reason the Senate voted Thursday to give the state's utility regulators until December to issue a decision about V.C. Summer and Dominion's proposed takeover.
With such "far-reaching" issues being decided, Commissioner Elliott Elam said the utility commission shouldn't rush its review of SCANA and the nuclear project.