In a big way …
But over the last few weeks, things seemed to have stabilized between the Palmetto State’s largest energy provider and its most powerful branch of government.
Until this week …
Dominion’s announcement that it was offering a voluntary retirement offer to non-union workers over the age of fifty-five (with more than three years of service with the company) appears to have taken lawmakers completely by surprise – and is likely to set off another round of fireworks in this complicated, high-stakes relationship.
First reported by Avery Wilks of The (Columbia, S.C.) State newspaper, the buyout offer applies to more than 1,300 employees of former crony capitalist energy provider SCANA, which was purchased by Dominion on January 1.
These employees will have until April 16 to accept the deal.
Obviously those who don’t take the deal risk losing their jobs outright as Dominion seeks to streamline operations in the aftermath of its multi-billion dollar acquisition of SCANA – which took effect on January 1.
How will lawmakers respond to these moves?
There is an old expression at the S.C. State House: Lawmakers would rather be forewarned about bad news than surprised with good news.
And God forbid you surprise them with bad news …
(Click to view)
(Via: Travis Bell Photography)
Multiple lawmakers told us this week the Dominion announcement surprised them.
To be clear: The “relationship drama” that exists between Dominion and the state legislature this year is exclusively lawmakers’ fault. As we have been reminding our readers for months, the S.C. General Assembly imposed certain terms on the company during its acquisition of SCANA. Now they are trying to blame the company for adhering to these terms – including the provision of larger, longer-term rate relief to customers in lieu of the $1,000 rebate checks the company had hoped to dole out to ratepayers impacted by the 2017 #NukeGate fiasco.
In what universe does that make sense? The upside-down world of South Carolina state government, apparently …
To recap: Lawmakers killed the Dominion rebates during the previous legislative session, and state regulators followed their lead in approving a plan that also ditched the up-front checks in favor of greater relief over a longer period of time.
Throughout the process, Dominion’s negotiators made it clear they preferred the rebate plan – however the company’s recent advertising campaigns have embraced the alternative proposal.
We ultimately supported the alternative proposal because it provided the most available ratepayer relief … although frankly we were surprised Dominion didn’t jump at what amounted to an invitation from lawmakers to enter into renegotiations. After all, the short-term rebate deal was clearly in the company’s best long-term financial interests – and would have also been a huge political win. As we noted last month, such a renegotiation “would have immediately put to rest any confusion or frustration over the promised rebates failing to materialize … delivering a public relations coup for the crew in Richmond.”[su_dominion_video_scb]
Beyond the debate over rebates, lawmakers have even less room to talk on this issue considering their crony capitalist meddling helped put SCANA in its untenable position in the first place.
In 2007, state leaders embarked on a catastrophically mismanaged bid to build a pair of next generation nuclear reactors in Jenkinsville, S.C. using billions of dollars in government debt – while simultaneously socializing SCANA’s investment risk in the deal on the backs of ratepayers.
This investment risk socialization (totaling nearly $2 billion) was accomplished via the now-notorious “Base Load Review Act,” a piece of special interest legislation approved by the state’s Republican-controlled legislature.
What happened next is history …
In the summer of 2017, SCANA’s government-run partner Santee Cooper pulled the plug on these reactors – a bombshell announcement made just one week after its politically appointed board proposed fresh rate increases related to their construction.
The Dominion buyout offer would give employees up to fourteen months of pay depending on their tenure with the company.
“This can be a meaningful opportunity for those who decide to retire earlier than planned,” Dominion CEO Tom Farrell wrote in an email to employees. “For many people, it can be a way to secure financial options and an income stream that can bridge to a new professional opportunity or simply allow for more time with the people you love.”
No word yet on how many SCANA employees will face layoffs in the aftermath of the buyout offer, but our guess is such an announcement will be forthcoming in the months to come.
Curiously, not all lawmakers were upset – or surprised – by the Dominion announcement.
“If SCANA hadn’t been gang-raping ratepayers for the last five years, this wouldn’t have happened,” one lawmaker told us. “They were going to have to get lean one way or the other.”
As for the lack of notification from the company, the lawmaker told us bluntly if any of his fellow legislators “didn’t see this coming they really are as stupid as they look.”
WANNA SOUND OFF?
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