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Dominion-SCANA Deal: Quinndi Ross Scoppe Weighs In

Conflicted columnist embraces controversial deal, urges lawmakers not to “gamble with our state’s future.”

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Last year didn’t end well for columnist Cindi Ross Scoppe of The (Columbia, S.C.) State newspaper.   The so-called good government “reformer” was badly exposed as “anything but” during court hearings related to #ProbeGate, an ongoing investigation into corruption in South Carolina state government.

Scoppe was shown in these hearings to be a shill of the corrupt political consulting firm of Richard Quinn – whose operations are at the heart of this ongoing inquiry.

Quinn’s empire – which has been implicated in all manner of corrupt pay-to-play activity – is slowly unraveling.  And Quinn’s testimony before a statewide grand jury later this month threatens to unspool things even further – causing widespread panic within his stable of corporate and political clients.

Scoppe – who purports to be an ethical, good government watchdog – has not only refrained from criticizing Quinn and his corrupt lieutenants, she’s actually gone after those doing the criticizing.  That’s earned her the nickname “Quinndi Ross Scoppe” – which we’re told is sticking at the S.C. State House not unlike the blanket of snow that swept across the South Carolina coast earlier this month.

“Direct hit,” one lawmaker told us.

Scoppe’s subservience to the Quinn agenda was on display (again) shortly after her unmasking, when she penned a column blasting former S.C. Speaker of the House Bobby Harrell on the occasion of his attempted political comeback.

Harrell was the original target of #ProbeGate … before the investigation got turned on its ear and the hunters became the hunted.

Scoppe made some good points in her Harrell column, but they were unilaterally dismissed given her conflicted status related to the investigation.

Fast-forward to this week when Scoppe offered her two cents on the proposed acquisition of Cayce, S.C.-based energy provider SCANA by Virginia-based Dominion Energy.  This deal – which has become quite the political lightning rod – would put individual SCANA ratepayers on the hook for thousands of additional dollars on top of what they’ve already paid for a pair of nuclear reactors which will never be built.

This debacle – which we’ve dubbed #NukeGate – represents one of the most spectacular command economic failures in South Carolina history.  For the past decade, SCANA and its state-owned partner Santee Cooper collaborated to build two next generation AP1000 pressurized nuclear water reactors in Jenkinsville, S.C. at a cost of $9.8 billion.  This money was spent, but the reactors were never finished.  In fact they’re not even half-finished – with the cost to complete them reportedly ranging anywhere from $9-16 billion.

Unable to pony up that kind of cash, Santee Cooper pulled the plug on the project on July 31 – killing an estimated 5,600 jobs, squandering billions of dollars in investment and throwing the state’s energy future into chaos.

(Click to view)

(Via: High Flyer)

Documents released in the fall revealed executives at the two utilities knew over a year-and-a-half ago that the project was doomed – yet continued to raise rates on consumers anyway.  These rate increases were authorized by the controversial “Base Load Review Act,” a piece of constitutionally dubious special interest legislation advanced by liberal “Republicans” – and then allowed to become law by former governor Mark Sanford.

Not surprisingly, many of the politicians who supported this special interest legislation are now running for their lives – and looking to hit SCANA as hard as possible in an effort to appear tough on the embattled, crony capitalist utility.

One way of doing that? Scuttling any agreement that allows SCANA’s executives and shareholders to disproportionately escape financial responsibility for the debacle.

The Dominion-SCANA deal on the table is valued at $14.6 billion.  Of that, only $1.3 billion would be rebated to ratepayers for what they’ve already shelled out on the scuttled reactors.  SCANA ratepayers would also see a modest reduction in the amount they must pay for the reactors moving forward – but they would still individually have to shell out an estimated $4,000 over the next two decades related to the botched project.

Again, without receiving a single kilowatt of power for their investment.

That’s not sitting well with many state lawmakers, who believe SCANA’s shareholders are receiving an artificially inflated premium – while leaving ratepayers holding the bag.

They want to make SCANA pay.

In her latest column Scoppe cautions against such a response to #NukeGate, claiming that to adopt such a course would be “provoking a lawsuit that our state would spend an obscene amount of money fighting and likely lose.”

“Even if legislators were willing to impose a certain death sentence on SCANA, it’s hard to imagine that the courts would allow that to happen,” Scoppe (below) wrote.

(Click to view)

(Via: Facebook)

According to her, “lawmakers will have to decide how much they’re willing to gamble with our state’s energy and economic future.”

We spoke with two lawmakers – outliers to be sure – who said Scoppe’s arguments in favor of accepting the Dominion deal were convincing.

“You can rip her all you want – and maybe you are within your rights (to do so) – but right now she’s the only adult in the room,” one told us. “So you can either accept her view or you can keep listening to the people who landed our state in this predicament to begin with.”

Touché …

“You won’t find me saying this often, but she’s got this one nailed,” another legislator told us.  “Regardless of whether (SCANA) lied, cheated and stole, the essential question for the General Assembly (moving forward) is what policy framework will deliver the highest quality utility infrastructure at the lowest quality cost?”

Those are good points … although neither lawmaker expressed a willingness to have their name linked with Scoppe or her views on the SCANA-Dominion deal.

That’s understandable …

Most lawmakers viewed Scoppe’s arguments with an ocean’s worth of salt – and rightfully so.

“This is Quinn spin all over again,” one lawmaker said bluntly. “She’s the Quinn’s mouthpiece and SCANA was one of Quinn’s biggest clients.  So naturally she’s for a deal that rewards SCANA executives at the expense of the ratepayers.”

Our view?  Scoppe makes some points that are worth considering.  Rejecting the Dominion deal is indeed a risk that could leave ratepayers with nothing, and it makes sense to explore the ramifications of such a drastic policy move.

Having said that, we don’t believe the courts will totally discount the duplicity of SCANA and Santee Cooper executives throughout this process.  For years, they were dishonest brokers in decisions that have cost ratepayers dearly – and at some point we suspect those charged with adjudicating this matter will recognize this fundamental deception and hold them accountable.

Still, there’s nothing about this situation that doesn’t constitute a multi-billion dollar roll of the dice …

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