Why Santee Cooper’s customers pay a way lower nuclear surcharge than SCE&G’s

April 17, 2018


This article was written by Cindi Scoppe and originally published by The State on April 17, 2018.

Depending on who you believe, customers of the state-owned utility could see their rates go up by 7 percent or 14 percent to pay for the abandoned nuclear reactors at the V.C. Summer site near Winnsboro.

The Palmetto Promise Institute, an ideological advocacy group that is pushing for the sale of Santee Cooper, projects that rates would go up $16.20 a month for the average residential customer in order to pay off Santee Cooper’s $4 billion nuclear debt.

Santee Cooper officials, who, like officials at most places, do not want to be replaced by new officials, say a 7 percent increase should cover all of their costs, thank you very much. That would be about $8 more a month.

Either increase would be on top of the $5 per month (4.5 percent of the monthly bill) that the average residential customer is currently paying for the project.

Which most likely prompts a lot of my fellow SCE&G customers to respond: That’s it? Five dollars a month now? Possibly — possibly — as much as $21 a month? When we’re paying $27 a month? What are you complaining about?

That $27 a month is 18 percent of SCE&G residential customers’ bills — a figure that will go down if SCE&G suitor Dominion Energy consummates its deal. If not — well, it’ll still go down, because the only reason the deal would fall apart is if the Legislature or the courts say Dominion can’t charge even the new reduced rate.

We should have seen Santee Cooper’s rate projections long before now. But the utilities have been stingy with numbers other than the ones they want us to see since Santee Cooper and SCANA decided in June to abandon their joint construction project in Fairfield County. And since Santee Cooper temporarily suspended further rate hikes and Dominion offered to purchase SCE&G, attention has shifted so far away from Santee Cooper that no one has been pressing it for numbers. It only provided that 7 percent figure in response to the Palmetto Promise projection.

But what matters is that we finally have some book-end numbers, which means we can have a smarter conversation about both Santee Cooper and SCE&G.

The most obvious lens through which to view the projections is the question of whether to sell Santee Cooper.

If you start from the perspective that of course the state should sell, that’s probably the position you’ll cling to. If you start from a more open perspective — that is, we should do what is in the long-term best interests of customers — the answer is less clear. Although Palmetto Promise Institute goes through some complicated analyses that I don’t always follow, it does that in order to prove that ratepayers will have to pay higher rates.

The upside of selling is that, if the deal is structured correctly, the $4 billion nuclear debt would be assumed by the buyer.