Author: MARIA MCCOY Publshed: 7/10/2023 ILSL
This lobbyist is on the house — your house.
For this episode of the Local Energy Rules Podcast, host John Farrell is joined by Tony Bartelme, projects writer for Charleston’s The Post and Courier. They discuss how utilities have wagered and lost billions of customer dollars, why customers are on the hook when utilities take financial risks, and how unhappy customers can counter utility power grabs.
Listen to the full episode and explore more resources below — including a transcript and summary of the conversation.
South Carolina’s Utility Scandal is Not Unique
In what Bartelme calls one of South Carolina’s biggest scandals, electric utilities in the state spent nine billion dollars on the V.C. Summer nuclear power plant, yet have nothing to show for it. The project was abandoned after lengthy delays and mismanagement. Many key players will face repercussions for their poor decisions — utility executives have been charged with fraud — but where was this oversight before the money was spent?
In South Carolina, the utility regulators were asleep at the wheel
Bartelme wrote about the V.C. Summer expansion and other failed utility projects in a 2017 article for The Post and Courier. The article uncovers how utilities not only deceived or lied to regulators, but how they lobbied to change the rules in the first place, allowing them to place more financial risk on their ratepayers.
No Need to Break Rules When You Can Re-Write Them
Utilities lobby state legislators and regulators for the rules they want. Worst of all, they spend customer dollars on political maneuvering to ultimately line the pockets of shareholders. South Carolina’s Base Load Review Act, for example, allowed the utilities to charge their customers for the nuclear plant as they were constructing it. The South Carolina Legislature repealed the Base Load Review Act in 2018. Although it was too late to recoup the nine billion dollars, the legislature could at least protect utility customers from a repeated disaster.
Georgia utilities similarly wasted billions of dollars on a nuclear power plant. In this case, however, the utilities did not accept defeat and walk away. They have poured a total of 34 billion dollars into the Vogtle nuclear plant, which the utility customers will be responsible for.
Farrell and Bartelme discuss how utilities could be held accountable for their reckless spending or even prevented from spending recklessly in the first place. Colorado just passed a law that prohibits utilities from spending ratepayer money on politics. Bartelme hopes that people will continue to read Power Failure, learn about utility monopolies, and pressure their regulators for change.