Two agencies charged with regulating the state’s energy industry may soon see organizational changes after the state House approved this week part of a bill package to prevent future industry failures like the two abandoned nuclear reactors in Fairfield County.
If passed, one bill would expand the current 10-member Public Utility Review Committee—which presided over the Public Service Commission’s approval of nine rate hikes to fund the reactors—by two and rename the agency.
Under a separate bill passed earlier this week, the scope of the Office of Regulatory Staff’s mission would be limited to representing the public’s interest and economic development. The bill also adds a consumer advocate.
The bills are aimed at expanding oversight on behalf ratepayers and altering the perception of money influencing energy policy in South Carolina.
But critics say the bills—now before the Senate—are changes in name only and do little to protect energy customers.
Currently, the PURC is comprised of six senators and representatives, and four members of the public. The bill would rename the committee the Utility Oversight Committee and expand its membership by two. The committee would retain its current makeup of six legislators. The rest would be appointed by Statehouse leadership and the governor.
Members of the committee would also be prohibited from receiving campaign contributions from any public utility.
Several legislators on the PURC received campaign contributions from SCANA, the parent company of South Carolina Electric and Gas, before the utility abandoned the reactors last July.
Additional changes to the ORS include giving the agency subpoena powers and removing from its responsibilities oversight of the utilities’ financial integrity.
The agency didn’t block any of the nine rate hikes by SCE&G to fund the reactors.