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#NukeGate: Who Is Playing Games With Dominion Deal?

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We’re not necessarily sold on its proposal to purchase crony capitalist utility SCANA, but to its credit Virginia-based Dominion Energy has been above boards in conducting its negotiations in South Carolina.

Unlike other companies (ahem), Dominion has publicly submitted its offer … and has advanced its proposal based exclusively on its merits (eschewing the creation of secretive groups to do its dirty work).

That’s commendable … even if the rough-and-tumble Palmetto political climate probably calls for a less honorable, more Machiavellian approach to “issues advocacy.”

Nonetheless, Dominion has decided to take the high road … believing its deal (which was recently sweetened with some additional ratepayer relief) is the best solution for South Carolinians victimized by #NukeGate, a spectacularly failed command economic experiment in the state’s energy industry.

To recap: With state lawmakers and regulators cheering them on, SCANA and its partner – state-owned utility Santee Cooper – spent $10 billion (including $2 billion taken directly from ratepayers) on a pair of next-generation nuclear reactors in Fairfield County, S.C.

The 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 from anywhere between $9-16 billion.

Drowning in debt, Santee Cooper pulled the plug on the reactors six months ago – killing an estimated 5,600 jobs, squandering billions of dollars in investment and throwing the state’s energy future into chaos.

Just eight days before it bailed on the project, Santee Cooper announced massive rate increases on customers tied to “costs associated with nuclear construction and other system improvements.”  The utility has also given its former leader a multimillion-dollar, taxpayer-subsidized golden parachute – even though documents released last summer showed its executives (and SCANA’s leaders) knew two years ago that the project was doomed.

No wonder people are furious …

Not surprisingly, #NukeGate has prompted a flood of lawsuits and a rapidly escalating, multi-jurisdictional criminal probe in addition to its ongoing political fallout.  In fact we’re told this criminal probe is expanding in the feverish climate accompanying the ongoing brinksmanship at the S.C. State House.

As we’ve repeatedly stated, lawmakers don’t have a leg to stand on here …

Ratepayers were forced to help subsidize this project thanks to the now-notorious Base Load Review Act, a constitutionally dubious piece of special interest legislation advanced by liberal legislators and allowed to become law in 2007 by former governor Mark Sanford.

Those charges are ongoing … although lawmakers have made moves to modify them moving forward.

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As state lawmakers mull Dominion’s offer to buy SCANA – and as they seek to ferret out the facts related to rumored proposals to purchase Santee Cooper – they are receiving a flood of incoming correspondence from South Carolinians eager to have their voices heard on the matter.

Not surprisingly, many of these messages are “form” letters – or canned missives prepared by groups with a stake in the debate.  Often these letters are routed through automated websites.

Last week, we heard from several state lawmakers who received “form” emails they believed to have been fabricated.  In fact we were provided with several examples of emails that were attributed to individuals who did not send them.

We didn’t view these emails as especially newsworthy (lawmakers generally ignore canned spam), but reporters with The (Charleston, S.C.) Post and Courier ran a big story over the weekend detailing the scam – and quoting several irate legislators who received the mis-attributed emails.

According to the paper, a group called the Consumer Energy Alliance – which supports the SCANA-Dominion deal – is at the center of the storm.  The group admits responsibility for the canned emails, but not the fake names.

“We’re going to be reaching out to the proper authorities in the state of South Carolina because it appears to us that an individual or individuals have submitted names that are not themselves,” a spokesman for the group told the paper.

Interesting …

“Somebody out there who wants to stay in the shadows is playing games,” a source close to the situation told us.

We agree … but how long can they stay in the shadows?

Obviously we will have to wait and see if an investigation is launched into this alleged identity theft, but to us the whole thing reeks of a set-up – possibly an effort by opponents of the Dominion deal to drive negative perception among lawmakers (and additional negative headlines related to the controversial deal).

If so, that effort has succeeded.

The other theory?  That supporters of the deal got way too cute with their efforts …

Which is it?  Stay tuned …

Either way, clearly these emails are a bigger deal than we initially suspected.

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