Subscribe for 17¢ / day

Every morning I get up and put on the same blue uniform that was worn by some of the men that I have respected most in my life, men whose names are still remembered throughout the community even though they are no longer with us. I take their legacy to work with me on a daily basis and the sense of pride I feel at honoring their memory is only surpassed by the pride I feel seeing my son now also wearing the uniform.

I have been a South Carolina Electric & Gas. Co. employee for 29 years. I began my career at the V.C. Summer nuclear station after graduating from Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College. I then worked in the construction project for the Cope plant and have been there since its completion. I have been blessed with the opportunity to travel around the state working with other plants as they need assistance and even working with the line crews for storm response. This has allowed me to know fellow employees from one end of our service territory to the other. There is no other group of people I would rather work with.

Unfortunately, when one hears about SCE&G today, it has nothing to do with these men and women, it is only to discuss the failed nuclear project. Mistakes were made. No one is denying that. SCE&G and SCANA made mistakes. Santee Cooper made mistakes. Westinghouse made mistakes. Toshiba made mistakes. The Public Service Commission and Office of Regulatory Staff made mistakes. The South Carolina Legislature and the then-attorney general and now governor, Henry McMaster, made mistakes.

SCE&G made an offer to the public to begin correcting these mistakes and it was rejected. “Give me a refund” and “reduce our bills more” were two of the most common reactions seen on social media. In response, SCE&G began working with Dominion Energy to create a better offer. Dominion did just that, promising a cash refund and increasing the rate reduction that would be seen in our monthly bills.

The refund would be an average of $1,000 to residential customers based on previous usage to be paid out within 90 days of the merger’s completion. Commercial and government customers should see even more than that, and in an economically strapped area like Orangeburg, I don’t know what business, organization or municipality couldn’t use that influx of cash to its balance sheet.

However, using lines typically reserved for used-car salesmen and flea-market vendors, the elected officials of our state insist that if this is Dominion’s first offer then they can make the company do better, even though Dominion has made it quite clear that if this offer is rejected, it will walk away. We are told by these same officials that if the Dominion deal falls through, then some other utility will step up. But the only people who seem to have been given any deals by other companies are the legislators in meetings held behind closed doors.

We are also told that any threats of bankruptcy or having to raise rates to cover the cost of doing business are a bluff, and yet just this week the credit rating for SCANA and SCE&G was downgraded. This will ultimately increase SCE&G’s operating expenses, similar to how your household budget would be impacted if you had to go from a mortgage at a reasonable interest rate because of a good credit score to a payday loan with the same principle because traditional lenders saw you as too much of a threat. This will not just impact the corporate offices but also the 5,000-plus employees, stockholders and ratepayers.

As I said earlier, mistakes were made, but vengeance is not the answer. Allowing legislators to hide their role in this behind a smokescreen of new legislation is not the answer. Forcing South Carolina’s largest employer into the hands of a hedge fund or corporate vulture is not the answer. I wish I had an easy answer that would make everyone happy, but we live in an imperfect world and those kinds of answers are few and far between.

But I do know the spirit of SCE&G rests in its employees – the ones who assemble and give out food baskets every Christmas, the “Peanut Gang” that gives its time to bring a smile to kids with cancer, the ones who give their money to support local charities through the United Way – the ones I am proud to serve beside and the ones who are proud to serve you.

SCE&G 29-year employee J. Mark Whetstone is from Norway.


Load comments