“You are being offered a payday loan! You will get a $1,000 check today -- with one tiny catch. By the time you finish making payments, 20 years from now, you'll have paid your loan shark $5,000. Do you take the deal?”
Those were the words of state Sen. Mike Fanning, who represents Chester, Fairfield and York counties, a year ago in the heat of the debate over the failed V.C. Summer nuclear project and Virginia-based Dominion Energy’s proposal to purchase SCANA Corp., then the parent company of S.C. Electric & Gas.
In its initial proposal, Dominion proposed one-time $1,000 rebates to SCE&G customers as a cornerstone of its offer. The utility also planned rate cuts but said it would continue to charge customers for the failed nuclear project in Fairfield County over a 20-year period.
Dominion set about a public relations campaign to sell its offer, with advertisements encouraging customers to contact their lawmakers to urge support. But the General Assembly had other ideas, opting instead to mandate rate cuts that eliminated most of ratepayers’ charges for the nuclear debt.
Though Dominion had stated that its offer, the only one to buy the troubled utility, was hard and fast, the company changed positions after legislative action was upheld as legal. Ahead of Public Service Commission consideration of the proposed merger with SCANA, Dominion put a new offer on the table.
It eliminated the $1,000 rebate checks to SCE&G customers. Instead, Dominion proposed keeping SCE&G rates at the same level set by legislators with their temporary 15 percent cut. The legislative action reduced the typical monthly bill about $22.
The plan was approved by the PSC and the Dominion-SCANA merger went forward.
But that doesn’t mean customers have forgotten about the $1,000 checks. And forgive them if they missed the details of the final Dominion-SCANA agreement amid all the rancor and confusion that surrounded the debate over the nuclear project’s failure.
With Dominion now introducing itself as the new utility serving SCE&G customers, it has found the company on the defensive about the rebates. So much so that Dominion has had to embark on another campaign to explain to people why there will be no $1,000 checks.
In a recent press release, Dominion stated:
“In recent weeks, the company has received questions about the status of up-front cash refunds that were a key feature of the original merger proposal. The Customer Benefits Plan Dominion Energy originally proposed in conjunction with the merger included an offer to provide SCE&G electric customers a one-time cash payment totaling $1.3 billion, which would have been a $1,000 cash payment to the average residential customer.
“Over the course of the regulatory proceedings, the company became aware of significant support from policymakers and other key stakeholders for a plan that focused more on long-term bill relief instead of up-front cash refunds.”
Rodney Blevins, president and chief executive officer of the Southeast Energy Group, which houses SCANA Corp's operating and services companies, said: "After listening to policymakers and other key participants, we developed and offered a plan to lower bills as much as we could while still providing equivalent or greater value for customers. While this option eliminated the one-time payment of $1,000 for an average residential customer as we originally proposed, it produced a significantly larger decrease to electric bills."
And that is the final result: No $1,000 rebate but utility bills lowered over a 20-year period. It’s not the one-time check many wanted but the utility rates for Dominion customers will be at the Southeastern average and on average $22 lower than before the legislatively mandated cuts of 2018.
Sen. Fanning warned the 700,000 SCE&G to “be careful accepting that check,” saying the “payday loan comes with a $4,500 catch” to paid over two decades.
The catch was eliminated and so were the checks. And customers got the better of the deals.