Tuesday marked the one-year anniversary when two of the state’s energy monopolies announced they would abandon construction of two nuclear reactors after spending $9 billion and 10 years on them.
If we learned anything, I hope it’s this—utilities in South Carolina are a protected class, a handful of energy monopolies divvied up primarily along geographic lines.
Energy monopolies use the same political fuel as other local industries—lobbying efforts, campaign donations, and memberships in political action committees that work to elect their selection of candidates.
Those industries don’t belong to the utilities’ protected class, which lacks the competition that ultimately protects customers, however.
All the work by the General Assembly for the past year has centered on getting customers out of the morass enabled by policy makers and created by state-owned Santee Cooper and SCANA subsidiary, South Carolina Electric and Gas.
If legislators don’t begin disbanding these monopolies soon, it won’t matter whether customers make their checks payable to SCE&G or to some other company controlling large segments of the energy marketplace.
Virginia energy giant, Dominion Energy cleared one hurdle in its planned $14.6 billion SCANA buyout on Tuesday, when shareholders voted to approve the sale.
Customers fretting Dominion will use political prowess to buy up legislative influence needn’t worry more about purchasing from Dominion than from SCE&G, if state regulators approve the buyout this fall.
Dominion’s political action committee has been donating to Statehouse candidates for several years, already.
Cayce-based SCANA has been, also. So, too, do other utilities, including state and nationwide solar groups, which have been hailed as a possible alternative to the state’s energy woes.
The legislators tasked with investigating the V.C. Summer project’s shutdown received thousands of dollars in campaign donations from SCANA since 2008.
SCANA also paid more than $1 million to lobbyists from 2008 to 2017. A pro-utility law, which made it easier for utilities to hike rates to fund projects, sailed through the Legislature in 2007.
Dominion donated $12,000 to committees and candidates for state office from September through December, mere weeks before the utility announced its planned merger with SCANA. Dominion’s parent company, Dominion Resources, Inc. spent nearly $240,000 on lobbyists from 2015 through 2018, according to records by the State Ethics Commission.
Alternative energy companies also supply campaign accounts. The nationwide solar advocacy group, Alliance for Solar Choice donated $9,500 to candidates for state office during the past year, for instance.
The group spent more than $135,000 on lobbyists during the 2017-2018 legislative session, as handful of lawmakers touted the merits of alternative energy sources on behalf of customers who financed the Summer nuclear failure.
Utilities lobbied legislators in 2018 to easily defeat a measure to lift a two percent cap on rooftop solar energy generation, expanding solar energy statewide.
Despite the benefits to customers of expanding energy choices, even solar groups enjoy small protections under a law requiring utilities to provide energy credits for solar customers.
To date, SCE&G customers have paid at least $2 billion for a project that will never benefit them.
If legislators are serious about representing them, or any other energy customers, they need to become serious about removing the energy market’s impediments to choice.