Throwback Thursday: Lawmakers control the energy monopoly, not the PSC

November 21, 2019

Inside Insight

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In a greatly anticipated decision regarding the future of solar energy in South Carolina, the Public Service Commission (the state’s utility regulators) favored the two investor-owned utilities – Duke Power and Dominion Energy – at the expense of small solar companies, according to solar advocates.

The question before the PSC was essentially how much large utilities must pay for solar power purchased from small producers, and how long the purchase contracts have to be. According to a national trade group, the solar rates set by the PSC are “the lowest in the country, and the contract lengths among the least attractive in the Southeast.”

This begs the question, of course: Why is a board of state regulators setting prices in the first place? The short answer is that lawmakers have guaranteed service territories to each utility, creating captive customers who cannot choose their own power company – to buy from a small solar company directly rather than from Duke or Dominion, if they so choose.

But that’s not all: Besides creating an energy monopoly, lawmakers also control every aspect of it. Utility regulators are elected by lawmakers, after being screened and nominated by a legislatively dominated board known as the Public Utilities Review Committee (PURC). And who controls who sits on the PURC? Three lawmakers.

Despite their colossal failure to guard the public interest in the V.C. Summer nuclear project fiasco, lawmakers have refused to give up one iota of control over the energy system. As a result, every decision made by utility regulators – good or bad, large or small – must ultimately be laid at the door of your House member and your senator.

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