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Legislators tackle V.C. Summer, education at Power Breakfast

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Sen. Shane Massey, R-Edgefield, envisions a packed and perhaps contentious calendar when the Senate begins its new session in January.

“The Base Load Review Act is going to be a fight in the Senate,” Massey told a group of business leaders Thursday. “Utility companies are already gearing up, and it’s going to take a lot to repeal it, or even to amend.”

The BLRA and the abandoned V.C. Summer nuclear project took center stage at the Legislative Lowdown, part of the Columbia Regional Business Report’s Power Breakfast Series, held at the Doubletree Hotel. The panel included Reps. Kirkman Finlay, R-Columbia, Beth Bernstein, D-Columbia, and Nathan Ballentine, R-Chapin, in addition to Massey.

Sen. Shane Massey (from left to right), Rep. Beth Bernstein, Rep. Kirkman Finlay and Rep. Nathan Ballentine addressed V.C. Summer and education questions at Thursday's Power Breakfast Series event. (Photo/Kathy Allen) Ballentine, the only panelist who was in the General Assembly when the BLRA was approved, said the Legislature “screwed up” by passing the law that allowed rates for the twin 1,117-megawatt nuclear reactors to be raised before the project was finished.

But he said something good can come from the abandoned project, into which S.C. Electric and Gas parent company SCANA and state-owned Santee Cooper sank a combined $9 billon — money for which ratepayers of both utilities remain on the hook.

“There’s a chance for lots of reform. We would be stupid not to learn from our mistakes,” Ballentine said.

Bernstein said the BLRA was never vetted, instead going straight to the floor for vote. She said bills of such magnitude shouldn’t get such a quick path into law again, and all aspects of such issues should be considered.

Finlay said he expects less of a fight in the House and wouldn’t be surprised to see a repeal of the BLRA sent quickly to the Senate.

As for the future of the V.C. Summer reactors, none of the panelists gave the project much chance of being completed.

“Based on what I have seen, finishing the project seems unrealistic,” Massey said. “It’s very unlikely, and I don’t want to create an expectation. The world has changed a lot in the last 10 years.”

Ballentine agreed that the project would not be completed any time soon, but he said he holds out hope for a future developer to come along and finish what the utility companies started.

“I don’t know if we’re going to get your money back, but we’re not going to pay to have those two holes sitting there,” he said. “I hope part of our plan is to protect what we have and then, five or 10 years down the road, someone can come finish.”

Equalizing education

Legislators also discussed South Carolina’s looming teacher shortage and how to equalize education opportunities in school districts statewide.

Bernstein said the simplest answer is a pay increase.

“We must increase salary for teachers in the state. South Carolina is well below the Southeast average in what teachers earn,” Bernstein said. “But there must also be added incentives as a way to retain teachers.”

Bernstein suggested a loan forgiveness program for new teachers who choose to teach in rural communities. She also suggested a mentor program that would pair new teachers with those who have experience in the classroom.

Massey said the best thing for legislatures to do is listen to teachers.

“We have to figure out why they are leaving and listen to what challenges they are having,” Massey said. “They will tell you about the workload and insufficient support they receive. Those are the things we must respond to.”

Finlay wants schools to embrace technology, offering students the chance to take classes at different schools or online, but said bureaucracy can be stifling and expensive.

“We need to redirect a lot of the resources we see to help as many people as possible,” Finlay said. “There is a ton we can do. It shouldn’t start with ‘We need more money,’ but with how to impose some accountability on the administrative level and put the kids first.”

Reach Travis Boland at 803-726-7543.

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