The Dominion Energy offer to buy SCANA Corp. remains the best solution to the debacle stemming from failure of the nuclear project in Fairfield County for which ratepayers of SCANA subsidiary S.C. Electric and Gas have spent more than $2 billion via higher power bills.
There remains one key hurdle to final approval of the merger. The S.C. Public Service Commission must decide by Dec. 21 whether to approve Virginia-based Dominion’s new offer to purchase SCANA.
Until recently, such approval was in doubt. Developments have changed the equation.
SCANA reached a $2 billion settlement with the South Carolina customers suing over the higher rates they were charged for the $9 billion failed nuclear project, which SCANA and partner Santee Cooper abandoned in 2017.
As part of the settlement, SCE&G current and former customers would receive refunds up to $180 million. The money would be paid out based on how much each customer paid in higher rates for the nuclear project. The average customer’s bill increased by about $27 a month over nine rate hikes for the project.
The settlement on Tuesday received preliminary approval from the S.C. judge hearing the ratepayers’ case. If final approval from the court is forthcoming, the settlement now depends on PSC approval of the merger with Dominion, which would cut rates by $22 a month for the average SCE&G customer.
Dominion’s proposed 15 percent rate reduction is eight cents more than a temporary rate cut, which expires this month, imposed earlier this year by state lawmakers. And it goes further than the Virginia utility said it would go in its initial proposal to buy SCANA.
Key players have signed on to the settlement. One is House Speaker Jay Lucas, a leader in the legislative effort to force SCANA refunds.
Lucas said Nov. 26 that eliminating the entire $27 charge for the nuclear project would be ideal but likely not legal under the state constitution. He endorsed Dominion’s new offer to cut electric rates by $22 a month.
“That combination of rate relief and customer refunds is consistent with the House’s position to maximize immediate and long-term rate relief,” Lucas said in a statement.
Dominion has done its part to foster the merger, though some have complained the utility was not honest in stating its initial offer was as far as it could go in accomplishing a SCANA merger. As we see it, Dominion has responsibility to its shareholders and ratepayers. Making the best deal it can make is the obligation of its leadership.
Dominion, which already has a sizable presence in South Carolina, clearly sees the merger as a winner for the company. And it is best for the future of SCANA, SCE&G and South Carolinians. Further legal battles would be avoided and SCANA would be in a fiscal position to continue the quality service it provides. Without the merger, bankruptcy remains a possibility – and that would not be good for the utility nor its ratepayers.