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Regulators order SC utility to start cutting rates

By: The Associated Press//July 9, 2018

Regulators order SC utility to start cutting rates

By: The Associated Press//July 9, 2018

COLUMBIA (AP) Customers of South Carolina Electric & Gas Co. moved another step closer July 3 to seeing a rate reduction after a failed multibillion-dollar nuclear project.

During a brief meeting, the Public Service Commission ordered South Carolina Electric & Gas to start dropping rates by 15 percent beginning this summer, according to a document posted online. The commission said that it wants SCE&G to begin the lowered rates in August, with the 15 percent rate cuts for April, May, June and July to be paid out as a credit in the August billing cycle.

SCE&G has tried to halt the cut, filing a federal lawsuit seeking to stop regulators from slashing the rates the utility now charges to recover its costs from the failed reactor construction project at the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station. SCE&G and the state-owned utility Santee Cooper had spent more than $9 billion when they abandoned the project last summer, citing the bankruptcy of lead contractor Westinghouse.

Last week, state lawmakers ordered the commission to reduce SCE&G’s rates until regulators decide by year’s end who should fund the abandoned project. Eighteen percent of SCE&G customers’ rates are currently going to pay for the reactors, or about $27 monthly for the typical residential customer. The law passed last week would cut that to $5 a month.

Gov. Henry McMaster vetoed the measure, asking lawmakers to stay and pass a bill that fully eliminates the 18 percent surcharge on SCE&G bills because that was the only fair solution. Both the House and Senate quickly voted to override that action.

SCE&G has argued that the action taken by lawmakers is unconstitutional and that it’s unfair to change the rules for collecting ratepayers’ money for the project a decade after work stated. In a statement emailed to The Associated Press after the commission’s vote, Rhonda O’Banion, a spokeswoman for SCE&G parent company SCANA, said the utility still believes the new law “is an unlawful and unconstitutional taking of private property” but that SCE&G “is taking necessary steps to comply” with it.

A state law approved in 2007 allowed SCE&G to begin charging customers for the reactors before they were completed. That law also ordered regulators to approve rate increases when needed to complete the project. The PSC has done so nine times since the project started.

Rates of state-owned utility Santee Cooper, which owned about 45 percent of the project, are not covered by the commission. Its customers are also being charged extra for the failed project, although much less.

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