York County Circuit Court Judge John Hayes III recently decided to allow five lawsuits filed against South Carolina Electric and Gas Company to continue.
The lawsuits claim that the actions of SCE&G cost customers just shy of $2 billion, and as a result they should be paid back.
“These are matters at law, properly decided by a jury. As such, SCE&G’s motion to strike … is denied,” Hayes said in his March 1 order.
The lawsuits stem from the company charging a higher rate with the intention of building two nuclear reactors that have since been abandoned.
“This action does not challenge the ratemaking process,” Hayes said in the opinion. “Rather, it alleges that consumers were charged rates for a benefit that SCE&G failed to deliver.”
As a result of the judge’s decision, SCE&G issued a statement March 2, saying they understand customers’ need for relief, but in their opinion the Public Service Commission is the best place for such issues to be decided, the State reports.
Hayes disagreed, saying that the PSC has limited jurisdiction relative to the court system.
“The PSC has no authority to ascertain the negligence of corporate entities and their boards, no authority to ascertain the proper beneficiary of a guaranty made by a third party, no authority to engage in retroactive relief or engage in a process to determine damages arising out of either negligence or a breach of contract, and no authority to determine the overarching constitutionality of the [Base Load Review Act] at issue in this action,” he wrote.
In addition to the energy company, the State of South Carolina is also a defendant in the case. It was the state legislature that passed the Base Load Review Act which allowed SCE&G to up the rate in the first place in 2007.
Attorney General Alan Wilson’s office issued a statement to local media about the judge’s ruling March 2 saying he supports his decision.
“Even though the State is a defendant in this case, we are pleased that Judge Hayes’ ruling allows the case to move forward,” Wilson said. “We have always maintained that the BLRA is unconstitutional as applied, and we firmly believe the ratepayers should have their day in court.”
So far, at least 20 lawsuits have been filed in state and federal courts. In the meantime, SCE&G customers are still paying the increased rate.
The AP reports that on average, South Carolina households are paying about $27 a month, or a fifth of their bills for the reactors. SCANA and state-owned Santee Cooper abandoned construction last summer.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.