By Patrick Hoff
The PSC approved the alternative “levelized” merger plan at a hearing this afternoon, which will give S.C. Electric & Gas customers more than $2 billion in refunds over a 20-year period and make a permanent rate reduction similar to the temporary 15% reduction enacted in August.
Dominion will also be required to appear before the Public Service Commission twice a year for the next three years to report on its commitment to keeping SCANA’s Cayce office open and minimizing the number of employees laid off because of the merger.
PSC Vice Chairman Elliott Elam, commissioner for the 2nd District, made a motion to approve the merger about 10 minutes into the commission’s 90-minute meeting.
Commissioner Swain Whitfield, representing the 5th District, concurred: “After nearly a month of testimony, evidence and cross-examination and everything included in the record of this case, I believe Commissioner Elam’s motion ... is the only way forward for our state. It pains me — it pains me — that SCANA and SCE&G will no longer be a standalone company. However, I note that utilities in our neighboring states in the Southeast have virtually all become part of multistate holding companies.”
Dominion and SCANA said in a joint statement that they are happy with the PSC’s decision.
“We are pleased that today’s decision brings us one step closer to a final resolution and the certainty that stakeholders have been hoping for,” SCANA CEO Jimmy Addison said. “We look forward to reviewing the details of the commission’s final written order when it is issued.”
The merger previously received approvals from the North Carolina Utilities Commission, the Georgia Public Service Commission, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and SCANA’s shareholders. It also was granted early termination of a 30-day waiting period under antitrust law by the Federal Trade Commission.
The Public Service Commission also found that — in light of Westinghouse going bankrupt and Santee Cooper abandoning construction of nuclear reactors at the V.C. Summer station in Fairfield County — SCE&G’s decision to also quit the project was “prudent,” as defined by a new law enacted in July that removed some of the interpretive leeway in the controversial Base Load Review Act. That act is a 2007 law under which the company was able to request and receive nine rate increases related to the project.
“This commission doesn’t make the law, but we do follow it, and we’ve done that since the Base Load Review Act was passed, and we will continue to follow that law as dictated by the General Assembly,” said Randy Randall, chairman of the commission and commissioner for the 3rd District.
Elam took nearly 15 minutes to read his detailed motion approving the merger, during which time he was interrupted by several protesters advocating for solar energy. The commission took a 10-minute recess while the protesters were removed from the room.
“This motion is the culmination of a long process for these dockets,” Elam said. “We have listened carefully and extensively to a great number of stakeholders in the SCE&G nuclear cases, and I believe it is now time to bring certainty and finality.”
Several amendments to Elam’s motion by 4th District Commissioner Tom Ervin would have placed additional restrictions and oversight on the merger; those were ultimately rejected by the commission.
Both 1st District Commissioner John “Butch” Howard and 7th District Commissioner O’Neal Hamilton said they went into the November hearings with the mindset of rejecting the Dominion-SCANA merger, but evidence presented during testimony last month changed their minds.
“I know some are not happy, but the decision has been made, and I hope we will join together to see that the combination of SCANA and Dominion will be a perfect thing for the state of South Carolina,” Hamilton said.
Commissioner Justin Williams of the 6th District said the hearings left no stone unturned, saying, “We’re going to be hard-pressed to say anytime in the future that there was information that we did not know. We have all the information we need to make a decision.”
Gov. Henry McMaster said in a statement that his goal since the V.C. Summer project ended was to ensure that customers bear no burden for the abandonment.
“The Public Service Commission — which I am confident has vigorously sought to make the best of a bad situation — has conducted a transparent, open process and has carefully deliberated the positions of ratepayers, the power companies, and the court,” he said. “Our goal now must be to learn from these failures, to never repeat them, and to continue to work diligently for the growth and prosperity of South Carolina.”