Business & Consumer

After heated debate, SC Senate votes to cut SCE&G rates

(WCBD) - "We are in a no win, untenable position that we didn't put ourselves in," said State Senator Nikki Setzler, a Democrat from Lexington County.  "I hate to say it, but a company in my district put us in that position."

Setzler's comments came Wednesday as members of the South Carolina Senate prepared to vote on bill S.954, a measure that would lower the electric rates of South Carolina Electric and Gas by 13-percent.

The Senate approved the measure after a heated debate over the issue. 

SCANA released a statement calling the passage of S.954 "disappointing."   The company went on to say that if the measure becomes law, it would consider its options, including challenging the law in court.

The vote for a rate cut threatens the proposed merger between Dominion Energy and SCANA, the Cayce-based parent company of SCE&G.

Dominion Energy released the following statement after Wednesday's Senate vote:

The response of SCE&G customers has been very clear. They overwhelmingly prefer the certainty of our proposal, the $1,000 payment to an average residential customer and a permanent rate cut of about 7 percent over the a temporary reduction that could be overturned by the courts or put taxpayers at risk. If the Senate bill becomes law, we stand by the previous statement of our chairman that this would be a material event that could eliminate all of these benefits.

During his remarks, Setzler claimed SCANA has done nothing to help resolve the ongoing controversy over an abandoned nuclear expansion project in Jenkinsville.  The average SCE&G customer continues to pay $27 a month for the project, which was abandoned in July.

"I want to see SCANA cut their dividends. I want to see them reduce the rates voluntarily, if they don't want this bill passed.  I want to see them take part of the return on equity out of the rate base, but they won't do it," Setzler said.

State Senator Brad Hutto, a Democrat from Orangeburg County, urged members of the Senate to postpone a vote on the proposed rate cut until the end of the year.

"That way, we have not done anything to stop the PSC (Public Service Commission of South Carolina) from hearing the merger issue," Hutto said.

A study financed by Dominion Energy claims a merger with SCANA could provide an $18.7 billion boost to South Carolina's economy.

"The benefits of the Dominion Energy proposal go well beyond the immediate value of the $1.3 billion in cash payments to SCE&G electric customers," said Thomas F. Farrell, II, Dominion Energy chairman, president and chief executive officer. "The payments and the extra money in customers' pockets from the lower rates will flow into the local economy in the form of billions of dollars in increased retail sales, new jobs, added wages and business investment."

The Senate's version of the rate cut proposal is heading to the House, which voted to cut SCE&G's rates by 18-percent earlier this year.

Gov. Henry McMaster has threatened to veto any bill that continues to charge customers for the abandoned nuclear project.

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