But the Senate's plan to cut the 18 percent SCANA Corp. is charging customers to pay for the failed project down to 5 percent won't be immediate. The House earlier this year passed its own bill eliminating the charge, which costs the average South Carolina Electric & Gas customer $27 a month. Gov. Henry McMaster has said he would veto a bill that leaves any of the charges.
And the Senate's vote could doom a proposed merger offer from Dominion Energy. The Virginia utility is offering SCE&G customers a rebate of around $1,000 to an average customer, a smaller cut in rates and a promise not to raise rates for three years. It has a website and is running commercials on TV stations in several cities touting the one-time payments.
Dominion CEO Tom Farrell has said the merger offer was likely dependent on being able to keep charging the $37 million a month SCE&G is getting for the unfinished reactors at V.C. Summer plant, which were abandoned last summer without even generating a watt of power after a decade of planning and construction.
Sen. Brad Hutto spent much of the past two days urging the Senate not to cut rates, saying most SCE&G customers would rather have cash in their hands than a promise of a better deal from politicians.
"You know who is in the wings to make the next offer? Nobody," the Orangeburg Democrat said.
Democratic Sen. Mike Fanning, whose district includes the site of the failed plants in Fairfield County, said SCE&G customers should not be held hostage by a single merger offer and said it was time for them to stop paying for the plants.
Fanning and others have suggested using the money SCANA pays in dividends to pay debts instead of continuing to charge ratepayers.
SCE&G customers have already paid $2 billion toward the plants.
The bill does not affect rates paid by state-owned utility Santee Cooper, which owned 45 percent of the plants and has about $8 billion in debt. McMaster has urged the state sell the utility, and the House passed a bill creating a committee to study the move.
Both supporters and opponents of the rate cut predicted a lawsuit from SCANA or others saying lawmakers have no legal right to set utility rates without the approval of the state Public Service Commission. Supporters think they can win, but opponents like Hutto said if the state loses the lawsuit, it will be a double blow for customers who lose the benefits of the Dominion merger and then the rate cut. He compared the action of the General Assembly to a mad scientist.
"We're experimenting without even knowing what we're doing," Hutto said.