McMaster says there is potential for better deal than Dominion-SCANA merger

2018-02-13 | Aiken Standard

Feb. 12--Virginia-based Dominion Energy's proposed $14.6-billion merger with SCANA Corp. might not be the best deal out there for the Palmetto State and SCANA's customers, S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster said during a visit to Aiken on Monday.

The Republican indicated that another, more desirable suitor, could emerge.

"Dominion is one of several that are interested," said McMaster while answering questions following his speech to the Rotary Club of Aiken at Newberry Hall. "I am fairly confident that there will be other offers. There are a lot of negotiations going on right now behind the scenes that you just don't hear about. I have met with, I guess, probably seven or eight different companies that are interested in investing. Some have said no at first and then have come back and said, 'Yes we are interested.' So, we've got a long way to go."

SCANA, the parent company of SCE, teamed up with Santee Cooper for a project to construct two new nuclear reactors in Fairfield County. But after nearly a decade of work, they abandoned the effort.

Dominion officials have said their merger with SCANA would result in lower electrical rates for SCE customers and provide a partial refund of what those consumers already have paid in rate increases to support the failed nuclear project.

But in order to finalize the agreement, which SCANA has accepted, Dominion's executives believe they need to keep portions of the Base Load Review Act intact. Approved in 2007, that law allows power companies to charge their customers for building reactors.

While elected officials have no say in the potential Dominion-SCANA merger, they could decide to repeal the Base Load Review Act in its entirety.

As for McMaster, he said he believes that SCE and Santee Cooper customers "need to either get those reactors or they need to get their money back."

In addition, McMaster reiterated his previously expressed opinion about the fate of Santee Cooper, which is a state-owned utility.

"My position on Santee Cooper is that we need to sell it," he said.

"It's $8 billion in debt, and $4.3 billion is for those nuclear reactors. That $4.3 billion is bonded indebtedness. It's like a mortgage; you've got to pay it.

"I don't know how we are going to get $4.3 billion out of the rate payers who buy power from Santee Cooper. So I believe the only answer is to let one of those big organizations, with plenty of money and many multiple times bigger than Santee Cooper and SCANA put together ... buy it."

Topics covered by McMaster during his speech included economic development, safety in public schools and the issue of sanctuary cities.

He described the Palmetto State as having "a full head of steam" on the economic development front.

"I have met people from all over the world who are interested in coming to South Carolina," McMaster said. "We are sometimes referred to as the 'Beast of the Southeast,' and what they are talking about is industrial and manufacturing development. The main thing we have to do in our state to see that we achieve our fullest potential is to convince people that these manufacturing jobs that don't require a four-year degree are great jobs. They pay very well, and you can go from high school to one of the technical colleges, get a good degree and go to work in a plant before you know it.

"And ladies and gentlemen," McMaster added, "a good-paying job is a cure for almost every problem that we have."

McMaster's recommendation for making schools safer for students emphasized the increased involvement of law enforcement officials.

"We've got to have officers in the schools," he said. "I would like, in just a few years, to have a security officer in every school so the children don't have to worry and the parents don't have to worry about sending their children to school."

McMaster also told Rotarians and their guests that he wasn't a fan of the sanctuary cities concept, where certain laws, including ones dealing with immigration, aren't enforced.

Even though "we don't have any sanctuary cities in South Carolina now," McMaster said, he would like to see the state legislature pass "a law that requires the cities and every municipality to certify that they are not serving as a sanctuary city."

The reason, McMaster explained, is his concern that "a state that doesn't enforce its laws will have a lot of laws broken."

Dede Biles is a general assignment reporter for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since January 2013. A native of Concord, N.C, she graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.