Reforming the PURC – what is it and why the need to fix?


Video from October 2017, House Utility Rate Payer Protection Committee hearing.

From the Post and Courier

COLUMBIA — Years before South Carolina was saddled with two failed nuclear reactors, SCANA and other utility companies hosted “appreciation dinners” for the lawmakers who pick the state’s seven utility regulators, The Post and Courier found.

The social affairs were held at top-end restaurants in cities across the country, with the state’s largest utilities lavishing some of the Legislature’s most influential lawmakers. All of these lawmakers were on the Public Utilities Review Committee. That little-known panel selects and oversees the commissioners who decide how much we pay for water, gas and electricity.

These same lawmakers would help choose the make-up of the state’s Public Service Commission, whose members earn more than $100,000 a year while deciding whether to grant utility requests for rate increases. That commission approved rate hike after rate hike tied to the unfinished $9 billion nuclear plant — nine increases over the course of the project.

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Frankly, before the VC Summer fiasco, I had rarely (if ever) heard of “the PURC”: The Public Utilities Review Committee. But once we started diving into this issue last summer, I learned a lot. My colleagues did too. I could write pages on how messed up our regulated-monopolistic-energy-system is in the state. I could also write how the utilities single handedly stopped me from becoming Chairman of the House Labor, Commerce and Industry Committee. But for the sake of space, and your time, let’s just say that the utilities usually get what they want and one thing they don’t want is changes to the(ir) system.

During one of the many hearings over the past several months, my House colleagues discussed many issues with the PURC. The glaring issue was how much control these politicians have AND, how it doesn’t make sense for these individuals to receive gifts/contributions from the utilities they have direct control in regulating. Even with 2 of the 7 PURC members sitting beside me (see video), I successfully pushed for changes that level the playing field and have “normal people” (ie, not politicians) have the same number of seats at the table as the politicians do. The end result this past week in the house was passage of H4378 which – among other things – allows citizens equal say in who will decide important rate requests going forward and eliminated any campaign contributions, gifts, etc from utilities to this group that has oversight in the industry.

It’s always good when People, Not Politics win.