Home » Hotlist: February 20

Hotlist: February 20

Hey friends,

Last week at the Statehouse, legislative activity for conservation purposes was slow. But, one really big, important thing happened: the Speaker dropped his omnibus energy legislation with a host of cosponsors, and… it’s bad. Really bad. Let’s do a deep dive because, dear friend, we need your help to stop this thing before it negatively affects our environment and our wallets for the next 40–50 YEARS.

The Irony: The bill, H.5118, is entitled the “South Carolina Ten Year Energy Transformation Act.” The title is incredibly ironic because one of its biggest aims is to authorize and encourage the construction of a brand new, combined cycle natural gas facility, which will tie us to a dirty, volatile fossil fuel plant until around 2070. Let’s list why this is a bad idea: 

  • It essentially allows for a ‘blank check’—we don’t know how much this project will cost, but it will likely cost billions. We don’t know where the pipelines are going to go. Why are we rushing to authorize something this huge without all of the vital information on the table? 
  • A recent independent study conducted at the request of the Public Service Commission questioned the need for such a large plant. They noted that Santee Cooper had not adequately considered cheaper and cleaner alternatives to this megaproject. 
  • Natural gas is an extremely volatile commodity. It is wildly susceptible to international events, which ties South Carolinians to dynamics well outside of our control. Remember what happened to your bill after the war in Ukraine began? If you are a Duke or a Dominion customer, it went up by around 20% over the last year and a half. 
  • It puts all of our eggs in one basket. If you are a responsible adult (not me), you are building a diverse retirement portfolio that can withstand the ebbs and flows of economic success. I hear that is the smart thing to do. Betting big on natural gas opens ratepayers up to all the risks of such volatility discussed above. Why would utilities do that?
  • Utilities bear none of the risk. They are allowed to pass 100% of the fuel cost onto you. That is like gambling with someone else’s money and does not encourage responsible decision-making.

V.C. Summer, Part Deux: Cast your mind back to 2017—not that long ago. Remember when Santee Cooper and SCE&G (now Dominion) managed to waste $9 billion for the V.C. Summer Nuclear Plant—a plant that never generated an electron worth of energy? It was one of the biggest utility failures in history. How were they able to do it? Because we lived in a world that allowed utilities to engage in major energy projects with little oversight or accountability. This bill takes us back to those days with basically the same actors. 

  • This bill limits public input and reduces the power of the Public Service Commission (PSC) to hold utilities accountable. It requires the PSC, as a quasi-judicial agency, to give substantial weight to the judgment of utilities in their proceedings. That is legalese for “the utility’s word matters more than the ratepayer’s.” And can you choose someone else for your electricity if you don’t agree with utility decisions? No, you can’t.
  • The bill short-circuits the siting act process and limits the PSC’s ability to review the merits of new facilities before they’re built. These loopholes allow utilities to ram projects through the regulatory system without adequate review. 
  • Also, many permitting decisions for multi-billion dollar facilities must be made within six months. And what happens if the PSC doesn’t make a decision in time? The permit is automatically granted.
  • The bill allows the utilities to start construction on certain facilities before a certificate is issued.

Threat to Private Property Rights:  Eminent domain, or the ability of a government to seize private property, is generally limited to… the government. But what happens when a private company, like an investor-owned utility, wants to seize your land to build a pipeline? We should hold them to the highest standards of notice and give property owners abundant notice and rights to challenge those seizures. This bill walks those rights back. Under this legislation, a utility can get the permit required to build a pipeline in six months’ time. Anyone whose property rights are affected can only appeal those decisions directly to the Supreme Court, which has to hear the appeal on an expedited basis. And not everyone will have standing to make these challenges—if you don’t own the property, you have no right to complain about the huge pipeline running through your neighborhood.

How can you help? Y’all, the list of negatives in this bill goes on and on—I will have to make it a series. CVSC and its partners cannot stop this bill alone. I need you to call your lawmaker, go to their office, testify at a subcommittee meeting, write an email. This will be a battle, so we need you to do whatever you can to help us stop this bill from moving. To learn more about this risky project, visit PalmettoPowerGamble.com.  


Updates

  • Energy: As discussed above, utilities are asking the legislature to fast-track a large, expensive gas plant in Colleton County. This plant would cost customers billions and lock us into dirty, polluting fossil fuels for decades. Yet utilities want a blank check from the legislature to construct this risky project no matter the cost. Tell your legislator not to gamble customer money on this disastrous megaproject
  • Land, Water, Ocean: You may remember the Trails Tax Credit Bill that we’ve discussed in past Hotlists. The bill (H.3120) would give an income tax credit to a property owner who grants a perpetual recreational trail easement on their property. This will help foster greater connectivity and access to South Carolina’s trail system and help more people enjoy our state’s natural resources. The bill will be in front of the Senate Finance Committee next week, and now is the time to let your Senator know it has your support

Action Center

Here’s a round-up of current actions you can take to help us advance conservation policy during this legislative session. If you’ve already taken these actions, thank you! We’ll add more actions and provide updates as things unfold.


In the News

Commentary: Don’t give Dominion and Santee Cooper another blank check for a megaproject | The Post and Courier


The Legislative Hotlist is an update from our Senior Vice President of Government Relations & Policy, Meagan Diedolf. Sign up for emails to get the Hotlist delivered directly to your inbox!

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