PSC Officials Give Opposing Answers on Closed-Door Meeting Questions

April 29, 2014

Investigative Reports

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Closed MeetingWhen it comes to determining whether the S.C. Public Service Commission has been meeting secretly in violation of state law, PSC officials are giving conflicting answers.

The Nerve last month reported about little-known testimony by Public Service Commission Chairman G. O’Neal Hamilton, who told a legislative controlled screening committee in February last year that the PSC typically meets in smaller groups to reach a “consensus” before final rulings are issued.

Those meetings apparently are done secretly, as The Nerve could find no public records of any such meetings. Jay Bender, an attorney for the South Carolina Press Association, said at the time those meetings appear to be illegal under the S.C. Freedom of Information Act, which requires that committee and subcommittee meetings generally be open to the public, and that public notice of meetings be given.

The Nerve on April 2 submitted an FOIA request to the PSC asking for the minutes of all full committee and subcommittee meetings since July 1, 2011. The PSC last week provided The Nerve will more than three years of full committee meeting minutes, but no minutes were included of any smaller-group meetings that Hamilton testified to last year when questioned by the 10-member “State Regulation of Public Utilities Review Committee,” or PURC for short.

“Although your FOIA request references minutes of meetings of Commission subcommittees, no Commission subcommittees have existed during the time period identified in your request,” PSC staff lawyer Randall Dong said in an April 22 written response to The Nerve.

“Again, I appreciate The Nerve’s interest in the activities of the Commission,” Dong concluded in his letter.

But Dong didn’t respond to The Nerve’s follow-up questions about the discrepancies between his reply and Hamilton’s testimony. Hamilton, who makes $104,286 a year as the commission chairman, didn’t respond to The Nerve’s earlier written and phone messages seeking comment about his Feb. 12, 2013, testimony before PURC during his screening hearing for re-election to his seat.

The PSC plays an important role in the daily lives of most South Carolinians, as the seven-member panel, which is elected by the General Assembly, regulates utility rates for investor-owned utilities.

In its March 31 story, The Nerve reported that from May 2005 through last Oct. 30, the PSC raised the average electric bill for SCE&G residential customers 21 times. From October 2005 through Jan. 1, the average bill for Duke Energy Carolinas residential customers using the same amount of electricity (1,000 kilowatt hours per month) was raised 14 times.

The increases for each of the two large utilities during the period totaled more than 20 percent above inflation, The Nerve’s review found.

Reach Brundrett at (803) 254-4411 or rick@thenerve.org. Follow him on Twitter @thenerve_rick. Follow The Nerve on Facebook and Twitter @thenervesc.