August 15, 2018

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The State

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Attorneys representing S.C lawmakers and the S.C.. Public Service Commission have asked the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday to deny SCE&G’s continued effort to block a more than $22-a-month cut to its average customer’s electric bill.

SCE&G asked the court last week for an emergency order to stay the temporary 15-percent rate cut that went into effect Aug. 7 until the utility can appeal a lower court ruling that it lost.

The attorneys argue SCE&G hasn’t yet exhausted its state-court remedies, including directly appealing to the S.C. Supreme Court. “Even though SCE&G, ultimately, may not obtain the legal relief it wants from the commission or the state courts, it may not show a likelihood of irreparable harm in support of a claim for (an injunction) when adequate legal remedies exist,” PSC attorney John Reagle wrote.

Attorney Matthew Richardson, who is representing S.C. Senate President Pro Tempore Hugh Leatherman, has asked the court to dismiss SCE&G’s appeal, arguing the court lacks jurisdiction.

Earlier this month, a U.S. District Court judge allowed the temporary cut, passed by legislators, to take effect, scoring a victory for some 727,000-plus S.C. electric customers.

SCE&G argued it has the right to charge its customers for a failed $9 billion V.C. Summer expansion project under a 2007 law, even after it abandoned trying to finish two new nuclear reactors a year ago.

SCE&G ratepayers have paid more than $2 billion toward the cost of that ill-fated Fairfield County project, paying an added $27 a month, on average.

The utility claims legislators unconstitutionally targeted it to punish it for the project’s failure by passing a retroactive rate cut.

However, U.S. District Court Judge Michelle Childs ruled SCE&G was unlikely to win its lawsuit to block the rate cut. Childs said SCE&G’s right to recover its costs for the unfinished V.C. Summer reactors will be decided in December by the Public Service Commission, when it rules on whether the utility’s decision to abandon the nuclear project last summer was prudent.

SCE&G contends the temporary rate cut would make it more difficult for its corporate parent, SCANA, to borrow money and maintain a healthy cash flow.

Last week, two credit-rating agencies — S&P Global Ratings and Fitch Ratings — downgraded SCANA’s credit rating, citing the temporary rate cut and ongoing uncertainty over whether the utility will be able to recover its costs for the abandoned nuclear project.

SCANA stock, too, tumbled, closing Wednesday at $37.17 a share, down about $5 a share since the start of last week.

Attorneys representing the PSC and state lawmakers, however, point to a March 22 analysis by the Bates White economic consulting firm that concluded SCE&G could afford to cut its rates, by reducing its payouts to shareholders and cutting other costs.

A three-judge Appeals Court panel now will consider SCE&G’s motion to halt the rate cut. That panel is expected to rule within the month, according to attorneys.