Lawmakers are not shy in expressing their distaste for the way the proposal by Dominion Energy of Virginia to purchase SCANA Corp. has been presented.
Dominion has a team of lobbyists working directly to convince legislators the deal is a good thing for South Carolina, and the company has an ad campaign aimed at having citizens tell their lawmakers to stand in support of the Dominion-SCANA.
Lawmakers see the approach as pressuring them to go along with a provision of the merger that will allow Dominion to continue charging the electric customers of SCANA subsidiary S.C. Electric & Gas Co. for the failed nuclear project in Fairfield County. They’ve countered with public statements of their own telling consumers not to be swayed by the Dominion campaign.
Things got even worse recently when lawmakers reported receiving emails urging them not to pass laws that could kill the proposed merger.
House Majority Leader Gary Simrill told The Post and Courier of Charleston that he received at least two emails from friends who said they didn't send them.
One email that came from one of Simrill's friends even listed his home address. But Simrill noticed the email address was different from the one he had on file.
When Simrill questioned his friend, he said he didn't know anything about it.
Then another acquaintance supposedly emailed Simrill. She hadn't sent it either, the lawmaker said.
"They're being impersonated. These folks never wrote these emails," Simrill said. "I mean it's really despicable that they are using our constituents' names and physical address as if they had written us an email."
David Holt, president of the Consumer Energy Alliance, confirmed his group wrote the form email, which is on its website as a template for constituents to contact their legislators. He said the system is being abused by someone sending repeatedly from the same internet addresses but using names that are not theirs.
To no one’s surprise, Dominion found itself addressing the email issue by saying it had nothing to do with the communications. SCANA also said it had no role.
"We've been very up front about our proposal and our public outreach efforts. Everything we've done is out in the clear, so we would have no reason to want to do anything like that," Dominion spokesman Chet Wade said. "We're very puzzled, frankly, about how this got generated."
Speaking later to The Times and Democrat, Wade reiterated the Dominion position. “That’s not how we do business.” The issue over the emails takes away from full discussion of an important policy issue, he said.
And it further makes lawmakers skeptical about the pressure they are under to make the right decision regarding the SCANA-Dominion merger. The email controversy does not work in the favor of the proposal.
Our hope is the elected officials will put aside their distaste for the lobbying and high-profile PR campaign and look at the Dominion-SCANA merger plan through an unbiased lens. That means making a difficult decision during an election year when it is far easier to tell SCE&G customers they will not have to pay further for the nuclear debacle than to persuade them that the Dominion-SCANA merger reducing the payments to 20 years is a good thing, which it is.