Legislative Hotlist: June 23
Session is over (for real this time) and I wanted to give you a quick update on how the budget negotiations ended up. I also thought I’d give you a brief update on some of the things going on in the energy world. So, let’s dive in:
Budget: The State’s appropriations process always has the potential to be contentious, but early whispers had me thinking that the legislature was feeling rather agreeable. Unfortunately, those hopes were dashed when the conference committee began its work. Lobbyists spent full days in committee rooms waiting for the negotiations to come to fruition only to hear nothing. It was rough.
What was at issue? The complicated answer is that there was a lot at issue including resilience funding and various earmarks. The oversimplified answer was which college football team the General Assembly favors more: the Tigers or the Gamecocks. There was a $75 million appropriation in the Senate budget to build a new veterinary school at Clemson University and that threw the two schools way out of parity. In the end, Clemson won.
After several false starts, the conferees have finally come to an agreement, both chambers have accepted the conference report, and the Governor has submitted 11 vetoes, and the General Assembly has decided to take them up in January and adjourn Sine die. How is it looking for conservation? Pretty good!
- $45 million for land conservation split between DNR and the Conservation Bank;
- Another $200 million to the Office of Resilience for land protection for culturally or environmentally significant properties in danger from things like flooding or storm damage;
- $3 million to DNR for state water planning;
- $300 thousand to WeGOJA to fund a study that will determine which Rosenwald Schools are suitable for a state park network;
- $250 thousand to the Department of Commerce to fund a study on how to bring more wind turbine manufacturers into the state;
- $4.5 million to DHEC to make their salaries more competitive; and
- $6 million to DHEC for improvements to their permitting services.
Overall, there is a lot to be excited about in those numbers!
Summer Spending: It has been getting hot in the Great State of South Carolina, and my air conditioning has been running more and more frequently over the weeks. Both Duke and Dominion have raised bills so many times over the past year that my bill is going to be about 20% higher than it was this time last year. Customers of these utilities are going to have to budget hundreds of dollars more per year in order to keep the lights on, and the way things are looking—it is only going to get worse.
Why do I say that? Utilities keep investing in more and more natural gas generation—and natural gas is risky and expensive. We are seeing that cost reflected in our bills now.
Why, if natural gas is so expensive, are utilities choosing to invest more in it? Because they bear ZERO risk. Utilities in South Carolina can pass 100% of the cost of fuel straight to ratepayers. If they don’t have a stake in how much they spend on fuel, then they aren’t going to make careful decisions. It isn’t as though you can take your business elsewhere if you disagree!
All hope is not lost. The General Assembly is signaling that it wants to see more clean energy on the grid to lower rates and see more economic development in the state. The Governor has signaled the same at his recent Energy Summit where he issued an executive order convening an energy working group, powerSC, that will study South Carolina’s energy future. As they continue their work with various study committees over the summer, we will keep you posted and let you know about any opportunities to engage!
That is a wrap—enjoy your summer and we will be in touch!
The Legislative Hotlist is an update from our Government Relations Director, Meagan Diedolf. Sign up for emails to get the Hotlist delivered directly to your inbox!