From Scott Carlberg

South Carolina is looking at some new Public Service Commissioners. It is part of a normal rotation in the Commission.

This may not be a normal time, though, since the power industry in South Carolina has been so high profile over the past several years. The nuclear project termination is in the forefront of consumer minds since it will not make electricity but still cost money.

South Carolinians can be proud of their process to select public service commissioners. The State has a rigorous process to screen candidates. One of the best in the country because candidates go through tests to determine their knowledge of the industry.

Commissioners are not elected by citizens. The State strengthened the vetting process for commissioners more than 10 years ago. Applying to be a commissioner involves a background check, including financial; a written test on a broad cross-section of the industry; in-person interviews; hearings; and even checking references and acquaintances. A team judges each candidate and presents those deemed prepared for the job, providing the names of up to seven people per seat.

The S.C. Public Utilities Review Committee carries out this process and selects who ought to be considered. That is what is taking place now, and then the General Assembly will act on the recommendations next year. (Source)

How are commissioners chosen in neighboring states?

  • In North Carolina: Commissioners are appointed by the Governor and approved by the Senate. There is no knowledge test to screen candidates.
  • In Georgia: Commissioners have six-year terms through statewide elections and not by the citizens of their district.
  • In Virginia: The Virginia State Corporation Commission has three-members who are appointed by the General Assembly to serve terms of six years.
  • In Tennessee: The Tennessee Public Utility Commission has five part-time commissioners. Appointed: One appointed by the governor, one appointed by the speaker of the senate, one appointed by the speaker of the house of representatives, and two appointed by joint agreement among the governor, the speaker of the senate and the speaker of the house of representatives.

The schedule to make these appointments looks like this:

  • Friday, December 6: Written Examination
  • Week of January 6: Public Hearings
  • Week of January 13: Report Issued and Printed in Journals
  • February 5: Election

What are the qualifications to be on the SC PSC?

Each member must have a baccalaureate or more advanced degree from a recognized institution of higher learning. There are requirements about what qualifies as a college or university. Additionally, members must have a background of substantial duration and an expertise in at least one of the following:

  • energy issues
  • telecommunications issues
  • consumer protection and advocacy issues
  • water and wastewater issues
  • finance, economics, and statistics
  • accounting
  • engineering
  • law

If the review committee find a candidate qualified but they do not have the necessary duration and expertise in one of the eight areas listed above, they can still be appointed if three-fourths of the committee votes to qualify the candidate and provide written justification.

Citizens can find out about the Commissioner for their district here.

The State of SC released a list of people in the applying for the PSC, but you’ll need to dig for news about them. This does not get the same kind of news coverage as national or state choices.

DISTRICT 1:

  • Paul S. Gawrych  (Mt. Pleasant)
  • Alvin T. Johnson, Jr.  (Charleston)
  • Harry B. Limehouse, III  (Charleston)
  • George “Robert” Newman  (Mt. Pleasant)
  • Lawrence D. Sullivan  (Summerville)
  • Darryle B. Ware  (Summerville)
  • Carolyn L. “Carolee” Williams  (Charleston)

DISTRICT 3:

  • Stephen M. “Mike” Caston  (Clemson)
  • Kevin G. Evans  (Salem)
  • Santana D. Freeman  (Abbeville)
  • Comer H. “Randy” Randall (Clinton)

DISTRICT 5:

  • Luther P. Hendrix  (Camden)
  • Headen B. Thomas  (Rock Hill)
  • Stephen R. Thomas  (Fort Mill)
  • Swain E. Whitfield  (Winnsboro)

DISTRICT 7:

  • John Q. Atkinson, Jr.  (Marion)
  • Alys C. Lawson  (Conway)
  • Bonnie D. Loomis  (Murrells Inlet)
  • Thomas G. “Tee” Miller, Jr.  (Georgetown)
  • Ted M. Vick  (Pawleys Island)

“In case you don’t know” information:

What are Public Service Commissions?  A public service commission (PSC), sometimes also known as a public utility commission (PUC) is a government body that regulates the rates and services, or provides oversight, of a public utility within a state. (NOTE: Santee Cooper and electric membership coops, though they provide electric service, are not overseen by the SC PSC.)

What is the SC PSC? The Public Service Commission balances South Carolina’s citizens’ need for reliable services and reasonable rates with the need for utilities to earn a reasonable return on investment. The Commission protects consumers’ interests. Utilities regulated by the Commission include investor-owned water and wastewater utilities, telephone utilities, investor-owned electrical utilities, gas utilities, and motor vehicle carriers as defined in Title 58 of the South Carolina Code of Laws. There are some exceptions. For example, the Commission does not regulate utilities operated by municipalities, co-ops and state-owned Santee Cooper. (Source)

How many people sit on the SC PSC? Seven. Commissioners are elected during a joint session of the South Carolina General Assembly to a term of four years. One commissioner is elected from each of the six Commission Districts and one is elected at-large.