South Carolina

Utility regulators say Dominion is falling short of early promise in SCANA deal

FILE: Tom Farrell, CEO of Dominion Energy, speaks during a meeting with The State Newspaper. 1/4/18
FILE: Tom Farrell, CEO of Dominion Energy, speaks during a meeting with The State Newspaper. 1/4/18

S.C. regulators are worried Virginia-based Dominion Energy isn’t following through on one of the first promises it made in buying Cayce-based SCANA earlier this year.

That is a pledge from Dominion chief executive Tom Farrell that his company would explain to its new S.C. power customers why they won’t be getting the $1,000 nuclear refund checks that Dominion advertised so heavily last year.

During the S.C. Public Service Commission’s regular meeting Wednesday, commissioner Justin Williams said he isn’t satisfied Dominion has explained that those checks aren’t coming in the month since the SCANA takeover closed. Williams said he thinks some of Dominion’s nearly 730,000 new S.C. electric customers are wondering where their checks are, including a state lawmaker who wrote a letter to the PSC asking about the refunds.

“I’m concerned that such unfulfilled promises further damage the already damaged public trust in government and business,” Williams said. “I’m further concerned that such unfulfilled promises made by an organization under the jurisdiction of the South Carolina Public Service Commission demands that this commission asks more questions.”

Commissioner Swain Whitfield said he agreed with Williams’ concerns.

Dominion says it is only 30 days into a 100-day customer-education campaign.

The first phase has featured a series of ads introducing customers of SCE&G – formerly SCANA’s electric subsidiary – to their new power company.

But Dominion also is sharing a one-page handout with customers addressing why the $1,000 cash payments won’t come, and utility representatives are speaking at community meetings to answer any questions, spokesman Eric Boomhower said.

“As with any campaign, we will continue to listen to our customers and adjust our message as appropriate to maximize clarity,” Boomhower said.

Throughout 2018, Dominion spent millions of dollars on TV, radio, social media and newspaper ads to whip up public support for its offer to buy troubled SCANA.

It promised customers if the deal closed, they would receive about $1,000 per household – a partial refund for what SCE&G had charged those customers in higher rates for an unfinished nuclear power plant.

But regulators and State House leaders told Dominion they would be OK with dropping the refunds if Dominion instead cut SCE&G’s nuclear-bloated rates deeper – ensuring customers pay less for the V.C. Summer expansion project in the long run.

Before approving the SCANA buyout in December, the PSC asked for assurances that Dominion was going to explain that change to its customers – and not throw the PSC under the bus when the refunds did not come.

PSC commissioner Williams questioned Wednesday whether Dominion had done enough to answer what he considers the No. 1 question on SCE&G customers’ minds: “Where is my check?”

State Rep. Wendell Gilliard, D-Charleston, agrees.

On Jan. 15, he filed a House resolution calling on Dominion to honor “its first representations to ratepayers” and send out checks.

Twenty-one House members – 20 Democrats and a Republican – have signed onto Gilliard’s resolution, which hasn’t passed.

“I’m not the only one getting the calls,” Gilliard told The State Friday. “I’m one to believe that Dominion has chosen to come in on the same tide SCANA left out on, the tide of corruption and being disingenuous. That’s not good.

“They should rectify the problems with the ratepayers.”

Avery G. Wilks is The State’s senior S.C. State House and politics reporter. He was named the 2018 S.C. Journalist of the Year by the South Carolina Press Association. He grew up in Chester, S.C., and graduated from the University of South Carolina’s top-ranked Honors College in 2015.