There was quite a bit of news yesterday regarding the ongoing saga of #NukeGate – the state of South Carolina’s spectacularly failed attempt to meddle in the nuclear power business.
This still-unfolding drama began way back in 2007, when state lawmakers empowered a pair of utilities – one public, one private – to alternately incur debt and raise rates on customers in pursuit of building a pair of next-generation reactors at the V.C. Summer nuclear generating station in Jenkinsville, S.C.
Ten years and $10 billion later, #NukeGate failed to produce the reactors promised by crony capitalist utility SCANA and government-owned power provider Santee Cooper. It has, however, yielded ratepayer lawsuits, political intrigue, election-year politicking, criminal investigations and a furious ongoing debate over SCANA and Santee Cooper’s future.
This week, Virginia-based Dominion Energy – which has submitted two versions of a $15 billion bid to buy SCANA – made a play for Santee Cooper, too. Dominion doesn’t want to buy the debt-addled utility, it wants to enter a “unique management arrangement” with the abysmally run state-owned behemoth as part of its purchase of SCANA.
That agreement would allow the state to retain ownership of the asset and, according to Dominion CEO Thomas Ferrell II, create “value for all stakeholders without requiring any ‘bailout’ or tax abatements from the state or its taxpayers.”
This bombshell development was exclusively reported by this news site. Before we deep dive down into that particular rabbit hole, though, we first need to assess the “other” big story that broke this week related to #NukeGate. We are referring, of course, to the decision by powerful S.C. speaker of the House Jay Lucas to embrace Dominion’s alternative deal for SCANA – previously thought to be dead – and to caution state regulators against making “unobtainable” rate cuts that could lead to successful legal challenge from the utility.
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This news outlet has not endorsed either of the Dominion deals. Nor have we embraced lawmakers’ proposed “solution.” We have, however, cautioned readers not to accept the legislative position at face value given that it was state lawmakers who landed us in this mess in the first place.
As we have said from the beginning of this process, we want a deal that “maximizes ratepayer relief, within the confines of what the courts will accept and the markets will bear.” We don’t believe that goal has been reached yet, although Dominion’s second offer is looking increasingly like a best-case scenario for ratepayers over the long-term (assuming you don’t want to play roulette with the courts).
And that’s before we hear the specifics of its plan for Santee Cooper …
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Either way, Lucas’ Dominion play was a bold move – one that had immediate ripple effects.
First, Lucas’ move – backed by a majority of his chamber – caused SCANA’s stock to soar. In a matter of hours, shares of SCANA recouped all of the ground they lost last week after a state judge hinted that the law authorizing recent rate increases might be struck down as unconstitutional.
Looking longer-term, Lucas’ move also exposed a widening rift between leading lawmakers over ongoing #NukeGate negotiations – and confirmed our prior reporting regarding the involvement of S.C. Senate majority leaders Shane Massey, who has single-handedly scuttled negotiations between the state and Dominion on two prior occasions (back in June and again last week).
House leaders were reportedly close to reaching an agreement in the spring – and again this month – but in both cases Massey helped sabotage the proceedings, multiple sources familiar with both negotiations told us.
What is driving his ongoing obstructionism?
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(Via Travis Bell Photography)
Massey (above) has been virulently anti-Dominion from the beginning, but his latest reflexive machinations against the company have raised eyebrows – and raised questions as to what is really motivating his staunch opposition.
Is it really the “best interests of ratepayers?” Or is something else at play?
Last month, Massey ill-advisedly injected himself in the middle of what appears to be an ongoing corporate coup attempt at SCANA – siding with an executive at the firm who reportedly opposes Dominion’s bid.
Since then, he has taken to “Twitter-trolling” Dominion on social media – attacking the company for its charitable activities in the Palmetto State.
We reached out to Massey this week in the hopes of getting his take on the latest developments, but did not receive a response. For weeks, this news outlet has repeatedly offered Massey and his allies our microphone to make their case to our readers, but so far they have refused to take us up on that invitation.
That offer still stands …
Whatever our views may be related to #NukeGate, our platform is always available to anyone wishing to weigh in on the subject – whether they agree with us or not.
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Banner: Travis Bell Photography