Embattled Utility SCE&G Allowed to Block Solar Competitors
COLUMBIA, SC — SCE&G, accused of misleading lawmakers and the public by concealing the failings of a nuclear construction project that cost its customers billions of dollars, has now been given the go-ahead to put the squeeze on small, competing power companies.
That means customers will lose another opportunity to shave their excessive electric bills, which because of SCE&G’s bungled share of the VC Summer nuclear plant fiasco, are among the highest in the nation.
In ruling in favor of SCE&G executives and shareholders, the South Carolina Public Service Commission turned aside a recommendation from the state’s own consumer watchdog, the Office of Regulatory Staff.
“When monopoly utilities like SCE&G are allowed to block competition, customers lose,” said Katie Ottenweller, a senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center who leads the group’s Solar Initiative. “We end up with more of the same – boondoggle projects like V.C. Summer that line utility shareholders' pockets while saddling customers with higher bills.”
At issue is the federal requirement that SCE&G purchase electricity from independent energy providers, like solar companies, if the power can be provided at a cost equal to or lower than what the utility can provide.In a hearing to determine a fair price for the independent power, SCE&G wanted to pay a cut rate. That would reduce the business motivation for independent companies to operate and, in turn, would eliminate competition for SCE&G.
The Office of Regulatory Staff along with solar-industry representatives and conservation groups opposed SCE&G’s low-ball offer.
SELC represented the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League and the Southern Alliance For Clean Energy in asking that the PSC reconsider its position, a request that was denied on Wednesday.
“More of the same means more pain for customers,” said Blan Holman, managing attorney in SELC’s Charleston office. “The free market stands ready and able to deliver inexpensive solar power to South Carolina, but it is getting blocked by state bureaucrats. We need real energy reform in South Carolina to open things up to clean-energy competition and to lower customer bills.”
This setback for power customers comes on the heels of a utility-led end-around that thwarted South Carolina lawmakers who wanted to offer more solar power. Utility lobbyists exploited a loophole near the end of the legislative session that nullified a majority vote to lift the cap on rooftop solar installations. That means more people will be forced to keep paying SCE&G.
“This sad decision by the Public Service Commission means SCE&G will keep digging deeper and deeper into the pockets of its power customers, who have already been fleeced for years,” said Bryan Jacob of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. “Those customers will keep losing and the utility executives will keep winning until enough lawmakers have the fortitude to stand up to these monopolies.”