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Environmental groups ask SC regulators to reconsider SCANA deal approval

Environmental groups are urging South Carolina regulators to reconsider their decision to approve Dominion Energy Inc.'s all-stock acquisition of SCANA Corp. and cost recovery for the abandoned V.C. Summer nuclear plant expansion.

The Public Service Commission of South Carolina on Dec. 14 voted unanimously to approve the merger and reject petitions for rate relief filed by the state's utility watchdog and the environmental groups.

Friends of the Earth and the Sierra Club on Dec. 24 filed a petition for rehearing or reconsideration of the commission's Dec. 21 written order. The groups urge the PSC to reconsider and "reject" the joint application of a proposed business combination and prudency determination for the scrapped V.C. Summer reactors.

Regulators determined that SCANA subsidiary South Carolina Electric & Gas Co.'s abandonment of the more than $9 billion units was prudent based on the March 2017 bankruptcy of primary contractor Westinghouse Electric Co. LLC and project partner Santee Cooper's decision to cease its share of funding. Santee Cooper is known legally as the South Carolina Public Service Authority.

Under the approved deal, Dominion will lower nuclear cost recovery to about $2.77 billion from $3.33 billion over a 20-year amortization period. Dominion also agreed to provide "a total of $2.039 billion in refunds" over a 20-year period and a rate reduction of approximately 15% by eliminating nuclear cost recovery after March 12, 2015.

The environmental groups, however, argued the PSC erred in approving the deal and nuclear cost recovery "where SCE&G fraudulently lied, misled and withheld material information regarding the prudence of the nuclear project from [the South Carolina Office of Regulatory Staff] and the commission."

The groups added that the PSC also erred by "failing to require the refund of all revised rates collected by SCE&G from ratepayers in connection with the abandoned nuclear project where the costs associated with the nuclear project were imprudently incurred" contrary to state law, known as the Base Load Review Act.

Friends of the Earth and the Sierra Club also argued, among other alleged errors, the PSC failed to adopt merger conditions that "protect the public interest" and protect ratepayers "from the imposition of unjust and unreasonable rates."

Dominion has said it plans to close the merger by year-end. (SC PSC dockets 2017-370-E, 2017-305-E and 2017-207-E)