Dominion deal or no, south carolinians will likely be paying for failed nuke project for years cover stories free-times.com gas smoker recipes

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That sentiment speaks to a stark reality for many electric customers across the state: The calamitous nuclear reactor project, which SCANA and state-owned Santee Cooper spent a collective $9 billion on during the last several years, is kaput, and yet customers are looking at the possibility of paying for it — literally paying for it, month by month in their electric bills — for decades to come.

The Virginia energy company — which says SCE&G would continue to be headquartered in South Carolina — also is claiming it would cut the rates SCE&G customers currently are paying for the abandoned nuclear project. Presently, about 18 percent of customers’ SCE&G electric bills each month go toward the nuclear project. Dominion has proposed cutting those rates to 13 percent, for a period of 20 years. (In November, before a prospective sale to Dominion was on the public’s radar, SCANA had proposed cutting the monthly nuclear portion of customers’ bills to 15 percent, for a period of 50-60 years.)

“There is a plus side, and that plus side is that Dominion is a much more stable company than SCANA is right now or is ever likely to be again, given the liabilities it faces,” Teague says. “Dominion has much better ability to absorb problems, and also build for the future. So that’s the good side.”

However, Teague, who is vice president of the League of Women Voters of South Carolina, urged citizens not to let the Dominion offer of $1,000 checks to average customers distract from the fact that their monthly bills would still be saddled with a 13 percent payment for the defunct reactors for a further two decades.

“That [would-be $1,000 payment] is less significant, in a lot of ways, than the continuing rate issue, in terms of overall financial well-being of families, businesses and overall economic development in our region,” Teague notes. “That rebate is going to be gone fast.”

Sue Berkowitz is the executive director of the South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center. Appleseed advocates for low-income South Carolinians on a number of issues, including health care, immigration, housing, education, hunger, public benefits, domestic violence and consumer problems.

Like Teague, Berkowitz encouraged residents not to become too enamored with the idea of a refund check, and instead focus on whether or not the rebate is a fair amount for all that ratepayers have laid — and could continue to lay — on the line.​

“I think it is definitely a marketing ploy,” Berkowitz says. “It sounds great, ‘Hey, a thousand dollars!’ If somebody is struggling right now because they are low-income and have ridiculous bills, they are going to go, ‘Well, I’d rather have a thousand dollars than nothing.’ The bigger question is, ‘Is that a fair amount?’ We’ve all been paying for this plant for so long.”

While some residents might bristle at the idea of continuing to pay for the failed reactors under the Dominion deal, at this point the Virginia company’s proposal is at least a seemingly sure bet that ratepayers would recoup at least some money, and have the number of years which they will have to pay toward the reactors cut significantly. What happens with SCANA if the Dominion deal doesn’t go through is still very much up in the air at the point. There has been speculation that other companies might make a bid for SCANA, but that hasn’t materialized yet.

Still other residents are just plain suspicious of the proposed Dominion deal. Among their number is Leslie Minerd, an activist who has railed against the V.C. Summer project and who founded the Facebook advocacy group SCAMA (South Carolinians Against Monetary Abuse).

Minerd and SCAMA have filed a petition with the state Public Service Commission in an effort to compel SCE&G to include such a line on its bills. In her petition, Minerd notes that the Georgia Power company issues bills that have line items showing customers what they are paying for nuclear construction cost recovery.

SCANA has asked the Public Service Commission to dismiss Minerd’s petition, noting in a motion, among other things, that SCAMA is “not a legitimate organization and does not have standing” to bring the action, and that Minerd’s request is “the product of the unauthorized practice of law.”

“People should know,” she says, referring to placing the nuclear line item on the bills. “[SCANA] could put it on there without putting a fight up, but I can understand why they don’t want to put it on there, because it makes them look really bad.”

A bill prefiled by state Rep. James Smith — a Democratic gubernatorial candidate — would enact what Minerd wants to see. Smith’s proposal would also require SCE&G to show how much money it put towards coal powered energy, natural gas, and other costs in addition to the failed nuclear project.

As for the would-be Dominion takeover of SCANA, members of the General Assembly seem to be taking a cautious approach. Republican House Speaker Jay Lucas, for instance, says that Dominion’s proposal is “an interesting starting point,” but added that he believes “more can be done to provide ratepayers with the relief and protection that they deserve.”

Meanwhile, longtime Orangeburg Democratic state Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter tells Free Times she is pleased that ratepayers would get at least some of their money back under the Dominion proposal, in the form of the refund checks. However, she says the issue must be studied thoroughly.

“Without question I regret it, simply because I, for the life of me, can’t remember the floor debate or the conversation around it,” Cobb-Hunter says. “With something that significant I’m troubled by the haste with which it was done. That’s why we should not rush through this decision.”

“High-income people can absorb paying more for their heating bill in the winter,” Teague says. “But people who are on Social Security and small pensions and so forth, people who are in low-wage jobs, that higher utility bill translates into not being able to buy something else, like medicine or school clothes for the kids. Those are the trade-offs being made.”

“Look, there are persons right now in Columbia and they are hovering over a kerosene stove because it is cold as hell,” the councilman says. “And I hate to say it that way, but they are cold as I don’t know what because they can’t pay their high electricity bills.”