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#NukeGate: Dominion Presses Its Case

Utility hosts forums as #NukeGate drama escalates …

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Several South Carolina legislative leaders have been openly hostile to a proposal from Virginia-based Dominion Energy to purchase embattled crony capitalist utility SCANA – which remains embroiled in a category five scheisse-sturm related to its role in the still-unfolding #NukeGate debacle.

The public likes this deal, though … which is probably one reason why Dominion is hitting the road over the next few weeks looking to cultivate additional support for its nearly $15 billion bid.

According to the company, it will host a series of “meet and greet events across the state” with the goal of connecting with ratepayers and providing them with “an update on the merger” including its proposed “cash payments and rate reductions.”

The first of these events will be held this coming Monday (August 27) at the Newberry Opera House (1201 McKibben Street) in Newberry, S.C. beginning at 5:30 p.m. EDT.  Additional forums will be held in Aiken, Beaufort, Charleston, Columbia, Florence and Myrtle Beach (for a full schedule including the dates, times and locations for each of these events, see the end of this post).

We have recapitulated the origins of this debacle multiple times over the last thirteen months, but for those of you uninitiated it boils down to a spectacularly failed government intervention in the energy industry … one that has placed Palmetto State ratepayers in a thoroughly untenable position.

How did we get here?

Legislative meddling, that’s how …

State lawmakers socialized nearly $2 billion in investment risk over the last decade related to the construction of two next generation, pressurized water reactors at the V.C. Summer nuclear generating station in Jenkinsville, S.C.  Another huge chunk of the investment risk for this project was assumed by government-run utility Santee Cooper.

The reactors were supposed to have been operational in 2016 and 2017, respectively, at a cost of $9.8 billion.  They weren’t, though – and never will be.

The money was spent, the project simply wasn’t finished – and the two utilities couldn’t afford the estimated $10-16 billion price tag necessary to complete it.  On July 31, 2017 Santee Cooper pulled the plug on the boondoggle – killing an estimated 5,600 jobs in the process.

Months later, the public learned that SCANA and Santee Cooper knew the project was doomed – but continued sticking consumers with the bill for it.

Not surprisingly, #NukeGate has dominated headlines over the past year – creating high-profile legal battles (read the latest on those here, here and here) as well as intense legislative drama.  It has also produced credit downgrades and criminal investigations – and high-stakes corporate maneuvers.

Dominion’s deal for SCANA is by far the biggest of the proposals on the table.  In fact it is the only proposal on the table.

No one else has made an offer for the embattled West Columbia, S.C. utility, and despite the boasts of “Republican” governor Henry McMaster – no offer has been made for Santee Cooper, either.

Dominion wants to provide an estimated $1.6 billion in immediate rebates for SCANA ratepayers (an average of $1,500 per residential customer), along with $1.7 billion in debt relief related to the failed project.

All told, power bills would be reduced by roughly $10 a month initially under the proposal, with bigger decreases down the road.

State lawmakers have fashioned their own deal, though, one which would provide an estimated $270 million in up-front relief to ratepayers with bills reduced by $22 a month – at least temporarily.  Ultimately, the decision on whether to make that relief permanent would be up to the S.C. Public Service Commission (SCPSC), which was notoriously asleep at the wheel throughout the#NukeGate debacle.

Assuming that happens, though, the Dominion deal – and its rebates – would come off the table.

On paper, the legislative deal provides more relief – although ratepayers would have to wait several decades to receive it.  Also, the legislative fix has invited a constitutional challenge (as we feared it would).  And there are some ominous rulings related to that challenge.

So it is far from a sure thing …

This news site has refrained from endorsing either of these proposals … although we view any proposed legislative solution with an ocean of salt considering they are the ones who landed our state in this mess in the first place.  And considering how many lawmakers are conducting secret side negotiations with other companies.

As we have said all along, we support “a reasonable settlement that maximizes ratepayer relief, within the confines of what the courts will accept and the markets will bear.”

“The uncertainty from a protracted court fight could cost the state billions of dollars in economic activity and tens of thousands of jobs,” we wrote back in February.

Hell, it already is costing the state jobs … and not just in the microeconomic sense.

Anyway, lawmakers have been touting the virtues of their “solution” for the past few months.  Those interested in hearing Dominion’s side of things can make plans to attend one of the following forums …

Charleston – College Center Trident Technical College – 7000 Rivers Avenue, Charleston, SC 29406

Tuesday   |   September 11   |   4:00 p.m.- 7:00 p.m.

Columbia – Conference Center Brookland Baptist Church  – 1066 Sunset Boulevard, West Columbia, SC 29169
Mon  |   September 17   |  4:00 p.m.- 7:00 p.m.

Aiken – Business & Education Building USC Aiken, Conference Center  – 471 University Parkway, Aiken, SC 29801
Thur   |   September 20   |  4:00 p.m.- 7:00 p.m.

Myrtle Beach – Conference Center Horry Georgetown Technical College – 950 Crabtree Lane, Myrtle Beach, SC 29577
Thur   |   September 27   |  4:00 p.m.- 7:00 p.m.

Florence – SIMT Building Florence-Darlington Technical College – 1951 Pisgah Road, Florence, SC 29501
Mon  |   October 1   |  4:00 p.m.- 7:00 p.m.

Beaufort – Hilton Garden Inn – 1500 Queen Street, Beaufort, SC 29902
Thur   |   October 2   |  4:00 p.m.- 7:00 p.m.

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