SC Legislators Deal With Fallout of Nuclear Plant
Some South Carolina electric utility customers will be getting a break in their bills, thanks to the work of the state Legislature.
State Reps. Bill Hixson and Tom Young and Sen. Shane Massey addressed the North Augusta Chamber of Commerce’s Legislative Update Breakfast on Aug. 17, spending a large portion of their time discussing the situation with the V.C. Summer nuclear plant project. The project was canceled earlier this year.
Massey said it has taken some time for the Legislature to address the issue.
“I think you want us to take our time to get it right,” he said. “The last thing we want to do is screw it up even more than it has been.”
That work has included adding an advocate for the consumers. Before, the only advocate had been for the utility companies. The Legislature is also asking the Public Service Commission to consider additional factors before setting utility rates. In the past, if the regulatory office and the utility agreed, the PSC essentially had to rubber stamp that agreement, regardless how it might affect the consumers.
One benefit from the Legislature’s activity for SCE&G customers is some extra money. To fund the V.C. Summer project, a fee of 18 percent was added to the bills. That figure has now been reduced to 3.2 percent.
As a result, customers in August saw a one-time credit to make up for what they’d been charged in prior months. The September bills will show another reduction as it is adjusted for the new rate. Massey said the average customer had been paying $27 per month for the V.C. Summer project, and the new rate will reduce that to about $5 per month.
A new permanent rate will be established in 2019.
An interesting part of the discussion about the defunct nuclear project was a definition of the words “prudent” and “imprudent.” The project is allowed to be reimbursed for prudent expenditures, but without a specific definition a wide range of items fell under that designation. Defining the terms narrows the scope of items V.C. Summer can claim.
The South Carolina Legislature is also considering whether to keep or sell Santee Cooper, a 1930s New Deal power plant that is state owned. Hixson said it has been a valuable asset for the state.
“It’s been very good for economic development,” he said. “We were able to locate and relocate companies here because, when you own the power company, you can set your own rate.”
In other areas, Young noted that while the state’s teachers overall received a 1 percent pay raise, all Aiken County school employees received a 2 percent pay raise. With a $32,000 minimum starting salary, Aiken County has the highest-paid teachers in the state.
Young noted that South Carolina’s unemployment rate, 4 percent, is the lowest it has been in 18 years.
South Carolina also plans to build a new forensics lab and erect higher fences around state prisons to keep people from tossing cellphones across them to prisoners, which has become a problem.
One of the big issues for the Legislature in 2019, the speakers said, will be handheld cellphone use while driving. A new law in Georgia went into effect in July prohibiting drivers from holding their cellphones while on the road. South Carolina legislators plan to monitor the effects of that law over the next few months to decide whether the state will institute a similar ban.