Hold on to your wallets – open letter to South Carolina power customers

Stephen Smith | April 17, 2017 | Energy Policy, Nuclear

Have you ever seen the commercial that ends with the saying “What’s in YOUR wallet?” Well if you are an electric power customer in South Carolina, the answer is a nuclear power train wreck!

Please let me take a minute and share with you a little southern straight talk about what has been happening while you have been trying to make an honest living. Some of the boys down the road hatched a plan to make money at your expense. They are going to tell you its really complicated and trust them, it will all work out just fine. But don’t you believe them for a minute. They’ve created a mess and you are paying for their mistakes.

Here is what you need to know – the boys in suits at South Carolina Electric & Gas (SCE&G) schemed up a way to make more money for their stockholders in 2006 by announcing plans to build a couple of fancy new nuclear power plants. They talked the boys in public power into joining the scheme. Next they went to the South Carolina legislature and had them pass a bill that basically said all the financial risk of building these great big power plants would be put on the ratepayers, like you and me, but all the profits would go to the stockholders in the companies and the executives would get big bonuses. You know the drill. See, they make money on every dollar they spend, so the more they spend, the more they make. The only problem is, it’s your money.

So once they had the politicians in on the deal, all they needed were the folks at the Public Service Commission (PSC) to “rubber stamp” the scheme. The PSC is supposed to protect you from these monopoly utility schemes that make big money for their stockholders. The PSC is charged with making sure your electric rates stay low and the lights stay on; however, let’s just say they’ve literally been asleep at the switch.  They ignored all the red flags that folks raised about the risks of building these big power plants and look what happened: the nuclear projects have gone way over budget – and I mean billions of dollars over budget – and are years behind schedule. And, because of these cost overruns and delays, your electric bill is going up, and is going to continue to go up, with no end in sight.

If this was not bad enough, it’s about to get a whole lot worse. This is the “train wreck” part. So a big Japanese company called Toshiba, bought the U.S. company Westinghouse. It was Westinghouse that designed and agreed to build a new design of nuclear reactors that have never operated anywhere in the world. Well, when they started falling behind schedule, Westinghouse executives talked Toshiba into buying the companies that were slow in doing the work. Before long Toshiba/Westinghouse about owned it all. When the costs kept going up, even the utility boys got nervous and soon the blame game began. And then came the lawsuits and now Westinghouse has filed for bankruptcy. Oh, but it gets worse: it appears that Westinghouse and Toshiba have made promises they can not fulfill, and the bookkeeping is so bad at Toshiba that the big accountants will not stand by the company’s audit. They may have to go out of business. What a train wreck!

Folks, here is the bottom line, and there always is a bottom line: this big power company’s scheme has backfired. The people you trusted are taking advantage of you and if you do not start demanding accountability, they are going to make it a whole lot worse on your wallets.

How do we stop the train wreck? 

First the PSC in South Carolina has to protect you and demand a transparent review of this project that is open to the public to see if it even makes sense to continue building these things. There is no reason to keep throwing YOUR good money after bad. They need to force the utilities’ stockholders to have some skin in the game. See, up until this point, all this bad stuff has been happening and the utility stockholders have been making money at your expense. Remember that’s how this all got started in the first place, when the utilities got the state legislature to put all the risk of building new power plants on you and me, while making sure all the profits flow to the utility investors and executives no matter what happens. Spending someone else’s money is a sure-fire way to guarantee no accountability.

There is a saying,“if you are not mad, you are not paying attention.” A whole bunch of us need to get mad, fast. And in the meantime, we’ve got to hold on tight to our wallets!

South Carolina’s Public Service Commissioners

Front row left to right:

Elizabeth B. “Lib” Fleming, [email protected], 803-896-5259
Chairman Swain E. Whitfield, [email protected], 803-896-5259
Nikiya “Nikki” Hall, [email protected], 803-896-5180

Back row left to right:

Elliott F. Elam, Jr., [email protected], 803-896-5180
Vice Chairman Comer H. “Randy” Randall, [email protected], 803-896-5180
G. O’Neal Hamilton, [email protected],803-896-5259
John E. “Butch” Howard, [email protected], 803-896-5259

Stephen Smith
Dr. Stephen A. Smith has over 35 years of experience affecting positive change for the environment. Since 1993, Dr. Smith has led the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) as…
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