COLUMBIA — Some of South Carolina's most powerful lawmakers believe five months isn’t long enough to clean up the largest economic development failure in state history.
Senate President Pro Tem Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, said Friday, that state officials need more time to review SCANA’s questionable handling of the nuclear reactor project — not to mention a multi-billion merger proposal.
“I think the whole process needs more time,” Leatherman said. “I'm not in favor of pressing the Public Service Commission to come up with a ruling by July.”
SCANA’s lawyers are protesting a delay, saying that without quick action the utility could face financial ruin.
And Dominion spokesman Chet Wade said a delay could threaten his company’s takeover of SCANA. That deal would immediately reimburse SCANA ratepayers $1.3 billion and would then require the average SCANA customer to pay roughly $20 per month for the reactors over the next two decades.
The dispute over timing could come to a head this week in the Senate where lawmakers will vote on a plan to delay a decision on V.C. Summer and Dominion's takeover possibly until February 2019. Lawmakers said Dominion CEO Tom Farrell is expected to make a final pitch on the bill in person at a Senate hearing Wednesday.
That's just one of the moving pieces in cleaning up the $9 billion debacle in Fairfield County.
Still to come:
• Another study by the Office of Regulatory Staff — the state's utility watchdog — on SCANA's likelihood of bankruptcy with nuclear plant payments. An earlier study found just a one-in-three chance for bankruptcy that SCANA questioned.
• State utility regulators' investigation whether SCANA misled them and made "imprudent" business during the decade-long construction at V.C. Summer.
• An analysis by utility regulators into the costs and benefits of Dominion's merger proposed in January.
• A possible Senate vote on temporarily halting the $37 million a month that SCANA collects for the reactors as the utility commissioners and the state's courts sort out who pays for the debacle in the long run. A similar bill passed in the House.
All that has to wrapped up by July 12, SCANA and Dominion says.
With billions at stake, SCANA’s lawyers filed a motion last week to have its case in front of the utility regulators on the Public Service Commission decided soon after the July Fourth weekend.
That would allow the company to finalize its proposed sale to Dominion by the end of September as it promised investors.
The Cayce-based utility also wants regulators to not stand in the way of recouping billions from customers for the partially built reactors. SCANA argues the 2007 state law that jump-started the troubled nuclear project sets a summer deadline for utility regulators to rule on their case to collect money for the unfinished reactors.
Yet several attorneys opposing SCANA's request said the case can’t be rushed through in less than half a year. They can’t recall a utility controversy as complicated or consequential as the one the state is faced with now.
“This is the big kahuna of cases,” said Blan Holman, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. “This is where it's going to get resolved.”
Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey, R-Edgefield, said he introduced the Senate's plan that delays a decision until next year because he didn't want the Legislature or the utility regulators to rush.
“This really is a once-in-a-generation issue. It’s that significant for the customers, for the employees, for the retirees of these utilities — for the state as a whole,” Massey said. “We need to make sure that we get it right, and all we’re asking for is to give us enough time in order to get it right.”