Any chance utility customers had at competitive energy rates—beyond a temporary rate cut—died for the year on Thursday, just hours before lawmakers were scheduled to adjourn for the year.
Senators rejected a measure to inject competition into the state’s energy market.
The bill, by Sen. Tom Davis, would have required utilities to purchase power from independent producers if power could be obtained cheaper that way. Aimed at cost savings to ratepayers, the bill didn’t receive a subcommittee hearing until April. It cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee in early May, long after the deadline for the bill to cross over to the House and be eligible for consideration.
The Senate approved the proposal after the Beaufort Republican attached it onto an energy oversight bill on Wednesday.
But on Thursday, senators tried to skirt Davis’ amendment by attaching the oversight proposal onto a separate bill that would repeal the 2007 Base Load Review Act prospectively. That law made it easier for utilities to hike rates to fund projects, whether or not they reach completion.
As a result, ratepayers are continuing to pay for two abandoned Fairfield County nuclear reactors.
Lawmakers have pursued only short-term solutions to the problem, said Davis. “We have done nothing, in my judgement, to address the underlying problem,” said Davis, who responded with a third attempt at passage. He tacked his proposal onto the repeal bill.
Ultimately, the Senate refused the cost savings proposal 27-17.
Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey agreed with Davis’ solution. But the Edgefield Republican fretted including the proposal would threaten the bill’s passage, just hours short of the official end of session.
The bill failed to clear both chambers before the end of the day, anyhow. The House rejected the Senate’s version, forcing it to a conference committee, where senators and House members can hash out their differences.
Legislators are scheduled to return to the Statehouse later in May and June to take up a limited number of bills, including the budget and legislation tied to the nuclear project.
But any chance at substantive energy reform policy in South Carolina is dead for the year.
Sen. Shane Martin, R-Pauline, buoyed Davis’ side of the debate, citing retirement system reform as an example of why lawmakers shouldn’t wait to pass energy reform.
Lawmakers in 2017 passed legislation to shore up the state pension’s more than $20 billion deficit, funding the $28 billion plan with more contributions and reducing the debt repayment schedule. A joint Statehouse committee planned a phase two fix to the plan, eventually considering overhauling how the retirement system is structured.
That committee last met in February, and lawmakers advanced no significant retirement reforms in 2018.
“I will not get another chance,” said Davis.
Ratepayers likely won’t either.