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SC Senate approves bill delaying action on Dominion/SCANA merger

South Carolina lawmakers have thrown another monkey wrench into Dominion Energy Inc.'s plans to expedite proceedings in its planned acquisition of SCANA Corp.

The South Carolina Senate voted 35-0 on Feb. 15 to approve amended legislation that could push to December regulatory action on Dominion Energy's offer to buy SCANA.

Dominion announced Jan. 3 that it agreed to acquire SCANA in a $7.9 billion stock-for-stock deal designed to provide a lifeline to the Cayce, S.C.-headquartered company, reeling from the failure of the more than $9 billion V.C. Summer nuclear expansion.

Following a Feb. 14 special committee hearing on the deal, senators introduced an amendment to S.B. 954 that prevents the Public Service Commission of South Carolina from holding a hearing before Nov. 1, with an order issued no later than Dec. 21. In addition, the bill states inaction by the PSC does not constitute approval of the planned merger or the change in rates.

The move comes after Dominion Energy Chairman, President and CEO Thomas Farrell II urged senators at the committee hearing to end the "uncertainty" with the planned merger.

Dominion and SCANA utility South Carolina Electric & Gas Co. filed a Jan. 12 petition with the PSC for merger approval and asked for an expedited hearing to be held on or before April 17.

Farrell acknowledged to senators that April 17 is an "aggressive date" for a hearing on the merger but argued that other similar deals have closed in about nine months. The CEO, however, also indicated pushing a ruling into late this year will not likely terminate the deal.

In a move that could threaten the merger, the South Carolina House of Representatives voted 119-1 on Jan. 31 to temporarily prevent South Carolina Electric & Gas from collecting $37 million per month in revised rates tied to V.C. Summer.

The House also voted 108-1 on Feb. 15 to pass a bill, H.B. 4377, which essentially revamps the PSC by putting all seven commissioners up for re-election this year. The bill, tied to the V.C. Summer fallout, would require that four of the seven commissioners be elected to two-year terms with the remaining commissioners elected to four-year terms. Thereafter, all members of the PSC would be elected to a four-year term.