Gov. Henry McMaster has rejected calls to fire the chief of the Office of Regulatory Staff, who has been targeted by lawmakers for blame following the shutdown of a reactor construction project at V.C. Summer Nuclear Station.
On Wednesday, Speaker Jay Lucas asked ORS executive director Dukes Scott to resign after testifying before a House committee investigating what led to South Carolina Electric & Gas and its state-operated partner Santee Cooper to bail on the project after spending more than $9 billion and hitting electric customers with a series rate increases to help pay for it.
“Mr. Scott performed his duties to the best of his ability, but his testimony before the committee raised significant concerns over ORS’ management of the V.C. Summer nuclear project,” Lucas said in a statement asking Scott to resign.
“New leadership in my opinion is necessary to assure South Carolina ratepayers that the Office of Regulatory Staff holds their interests in the highest regard,” add Lucas, R-Darlington. “I believe this is the first of many steps that must occur to prevent this type of catastrophe from happening again.”
McMaster spokesman Brian Symmes said the governor is focused on getting reactors built at V.C. Summer or getting ratepayers their money back.
“Dukes Scott is an invaluable member of a team that has met with some of the largest utilities in the world, and these potential buyers must be confident that South Carolina has the regulatory stability and institutional credibility necessary to justify their investment,” Symmes said. “Any calls for Mr. Scott’s resignation are completely unwarranted.”
Scott and ORS have been accused of not doing enough to protect ratepayers, who may now have to pay higher electric bills as the utilities seek to recover their costs on the failed project.
However, the state law passed in 2004 that created ORS eliminated a separate office in the Public Service Commission that advocated solely on the ratepayers’ behalf. The law, instead, required ORS to represent the public interest “by balancing the concerns of the using and consuming public, the financial integrity of public utilities, and the economic development of South Carolina,” according to the agency’s website.
In his opening remarks to the House Utility Ratepayer Protection Committee, which held its first meeting since the utilities abandoned the project July 31, Lucas said lawmakers may want to consider reviving the consumer advocate office.
Lawmakers also are considering repeal of the Base Load Review Act, which was overwhelmingly passed by the General Assembly in 2007 and paved the way for SCE&G to win a state license to build and operate the reactor units. The law was used by SCE&G to win nine rate increases that added about 18% to customers’ bills at a cost of $1.4 billion.
The project collapsed after Westinghouse in late April filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The utilities stop construction after determining it would cost too much to finish. Originally budgeted to cost about $11.3 billion when approved in 2009 by the commission, studies found that the twin reactor project would wind up costing about $20 billion.
So far, about 5,400 workers have lost their jobs, according to WARN notices employers involved in the project have filed with the S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce. A skeleton crew remains at the site to wind down the project.
SCE&G, principal subsidiary of Cayce-based SCANA, and Santee Cooper operate one reactor unit at the Jenkinsville plant, which went into commercial operation in 1984.