From Bea Wray

Monday night I attended the Public Service Commission hearing in North Charleston on the proposed SCANA merger with Dominion. After the V.C. Summer nuclear debacle, I appreciate the regulatory scrutiny of the investor-owned utility.

I also wonder about Santee Cooper, the state-owned partner of the energy project, which is not regulated by the PSC.

My colleague at Energy Consumers of the Carolinas, Scott Carlberg, wrote an informative piece earlier this month giving a good overview of the PSC  which drove me to the commission website.

The Post and Courier enlightened its readers with an account on Monday night’s hearing, the commission’s third and final across the state.

With each commissioner present, it was encouraging that so many citizens attended. There were lawyers, members of the Coastal Conservation League, a respectable turnout from the AARP and a hundred or so citizens-at-large.

Dozens signed up to testify. There was a three-minute limit to address the commission. Under the rules the commissioners could not answer any questions, but they could ask a speaker for clarification.
I learned a great deal from listening. The speakers came from Mount Pleasant, Charleston, Daniel Island, Hollywood and beyond. They were passionate about one of the largest financial and utility disasters in the history of our state. There was clapping and cheering for the many valid points. Most expressed their utter frustration that the watchdog failed them. They do not see the promised 7 percent rate reduction proposed by Dominion as significant enough.

Some at the podium wanted criminal charges for the leadership failure and reimbursement to the ratepayers. No one spoke in support of the merger or the Base Load Review Act, the South Carolina law authorizing an investor-owned utility to charge ratepayers for the investment in V.C. Summer.

So here I was at a consumer hearing taking public input so the PSC can make informed decisions. Interestingly, the PSC was created in 1878, so there was concern about unchecked utility rates 140 years ago! The commission not only sets rates for investor-owned utilities, but also for gas, telecommunications, waste and water treatment.

These commissioners, one from each of the state’s seven congressional districts, serve four-year terms on appointment from the governor and Senate confirmation.

This is a pivotal time for our state. And while I really do appreciate the oversight, I am curious about what vetting process is in place, if any, for Santee Cooper. What is the process which governs this state-owned entity? I will continue to explore and hope to learn more at this pivotal time for South Carolina.