But South Carolina Electric and Gas customers are unlikely to see the $1.8 billion they already have paid toward the reactors, for which partners SCE&G and state-owned Santee Cooper have paid roughly $9 billion.Customers are unlikely to see the $1.8 billion they already have paid toward the reactors Click To Tweet
But the original bill would have been unconstitutional, said Upstate Judge Billy Wilkins.
A business attorney with Nexsen Pruet, Wilkins’ opinion said the 2007 law that let utilities raise rates to fund projects ahead of completion and subsequently abandon them is constitutional. A total repeal of the Base Load Review Act requiring refunds to customers wouldn’t survive a constitutional challenge, he said.
House Speaker Jay Lucas responded with an amendment to more clearly define the bill’s terms and to let the Public Service Commission set an interim rate—under the direction of the General Assembly—pending litigation.
“Once today’s bill is signed into law, consumers can rest assured that utility companies will never take advantage of ratepayers’ trust under the Base Load Review Act again,” said the Darlington Republican in a statement.
“Setting the nuclear premium rate to zero percent provides South Carolina ratepayers with immediate relief while private sector business negotiations continue before the Public Service Commission.”
Under the 2007 BLRA, which sailed through the Legislature, customers are paying on average $27 per month—or 18 percent of their bill—toward the reactors.Under the 2007 BLRA, which sailed through the Legislature, customers are paying on average $27 per month toward the reactors. Click To Tweet
If passed, SCE&G has said it will be forced to challenge the partial repeal in court. The bill also threatens a buyout by Virginia-based Dominion Energy. Under the proposal, the utility has promised to customers a $1.3 billion refund—a $1,000 refund for the average customer—and a five percent rate cut.
The House gave preliminary approval to the proposal 119 to 1 on Wednesday, easily sending it to the Senate on Thursday. The lone dissenting vote was from Rep. Jonathon Hill, R-Townville.
Hill, who proposed instead a total repeal, said he thought the measure was unconstitutional. The bill grants the General Assembly rate setting authority not given in the state constitution, he said. He also maintained the measure would create a special law, in this case, contrary to the constitution.
Retired judge, Rep. Gary Clary said the courtroom was the proper forum for legal debates. “If we had adopted Mr. Hill’s amendment, all bets would have been off,” said the Republican from Central.
Some lawmaker still say the charges already paid by customers for the reactors should be refunded.
“Simply because we pass this bill, it ain’t over,” said Rep. James Smith, a Columbia Democrat running for governor. “Our work is not done by any means.”
Others, however, say expecting a total refund is a pipe dream.
“This is the first step towards relief,” said Rep. Peter McCoy, R-Charleston. “This is the first step toward protecting ratepayers.”
McCoy chairs the special committee that held hearings on the abandoned project.