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Summary of recent South Carolina newspaper editorials

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Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:


June 17

Aiken (South Carolina) Standard on Haley's view:

There's little room for argument that attracting Volvo to South Carolina isn't a huge boon for our state. The automaker will invest $500 million in its factory, employ 2,000 people over the next decade and 4,000 by 2030 and generate a projected economic impact of about $4.8 billion annually.

However, Gov. 's insistence on swiping $123 million onto the state's credit card to bring them here is a double edged sword. Haley's push to approve this bonding plan for Volvo comes right on the heels of her pushing back strongly over a legislative borrowing plan for projects throughout the state, including Aiken County.

That proposal - introduced in the S.C. House Ways and Means Committee earlier this year - was cast by Haley as running up the state's debt. However, according to Ways and Means Chairman Brian White, all of the projects associated with the $500 million plan were required to last no longer than 15 years, which would be the length of time it would have taken the state to pay back the money.

This bill, while certainly not perfect, derailed in March during the final hours of the budget debate on the House floor, largely because of Haley's opposition. A similar, yet scaled-back version of the borrowing package, also failed to gain traction in the S.C. Senate.

The issuing of $123 million in bonds for Volvo will actually cost the state a hefty $87 million in interest as the bonds would be issued next year.

While securing the Volvo plant should be viewed as a major win for South Carolina, the governor's approach in the deal has been too preferential. Haley has been adamant that Volvo insisted on the state borrowing the money. "If we had not done it this way, they would have been in Georgia," she said, referring to the other finalist for the auto plant. "We did what the company asked." That may be all well and true, but the governor's stance on this issue has been difficult to reconcile with her prior stances on bonds.

Some lawmakers have taken Haley to task for not including them on negotiations and not giving them flexibility to use other funding sources that would have avoided this costly borrowing.

While the incentives were necessary for Volvo, the governor's my-way or no-way attitude does more to hurt the state in the long run than help.

She and her administration may be an effective sales team when it comes to industrial recruitment, but that's only a slice of what's needed to ensure our state is set on the right course moving forward.

Online:

http://www.aikenstandard.com

____

June 16

Post and Courier, Charleston, South Carolina, on rate hike data:

South Carolina Electric and Gas asked the state Public Service Commission in May to approve a 2.8 percent rate hike that would appear on customers' electric bills in the fall.

If authorized, it would be the seventh SCE&G rate increase since 2009 related to financing the construction of two new nuclear reactors at the V.C. Summer site in Jenkinsville. And it will hardly be the last.

To an extent, customers knew this was coming. In 2008, the PSC approved a construction plan that would let SCE&G start paying for the new nuclear reactors through annual customer rate increases years before the new plant goes online in 2016 and 2018.

But a series of construction delays now threaten to push the first reactor's completion date as late as 2019, with the second reactor coming online a year later. Those setbacks mean customers could be on the hook for an extra $1 billion in unexpected costs if the PSC decides that SCE&G can include those expenses in future rate hikes.

And that's assuming construction goes smoothly from now on.

The fact that SCE&G can have customers cover such a dramatic cost overrun should be enough to raise the eyebrows of state legislators — especially those who crafted a generous 2007 bill that allowed the practice.

That bill — the Base Load Review Act — lets investor-owned utilities raise consumer rates to pay for new generator construction before plants begin producing electricity.

Paying more up front can help utilities save billions in financing costs, which could in theory save customers money on their bills down the road. SCE&G hopes to save more than $4 billion over the life of its two new nuclear reactors by financing them under the BLRA, for example.

Other provisions included in the BLRA are decidedly less consumer-friendly.

The BLRA also allows utilities to charge customers higher rates if construction costs increase, as long as they can show that additional costs are prudently incurred.

That's a serious disincentive for utilities and their construction partners to keep projects on schedule and under budget. And it's especially problematic for South Carolinians who signed on for new nuclear reactors at one price, but are already likely to pay much more.

Exactly how much more remains tough to determine, especially since portions of SCE&G financial data related to the reactors' construction costs are redacted in documents submitted to the Public Service Commission. The utility claims the documents contain confidential trade secrets protected under the Freedom of Information Act.

But that information could also be of significant interest to customers, who are legally allowed to review proposed rate increases and submit comments to the PSC during a public input period.

The Public Service Commission has no obligation to grant SCE&G's request to redact financial information. Indeed, the commission will consider that request when it meets today. It shouldn't keep the public in the dark.

SCE&G customers are already paying about 15 percent of each monthly bill in financing costs for the nuclear reactors under construction. They deserve to know exactly how that money is being spent.

South Carolina needs reliable, cost-effective electricity to power the homes of millions of residents and propel the state's economy. Nuclear power offers an efficient alternative to dirtier fuels like coal and gas. (It would be an even more attractive source of power if the federal government would provide for disposal of nuclear waste, as the law requires.)

But each expensive delay, rate increase and adjusted construction cost related to the new V.C. Summer reactors says that the state needs to adjust how utilities finance their projects in order to better protect consumers.

Online:

http://www.postandcourier.com


June 14

The Herald, Rock Hill, South Carolina, on new body-cam law:

Body cameras worn by law enforcement officers have the potential to provide an accurate, impartial record of interactions between officers and the public. But the videos won't do much good if the public never sees them.

Gov. signed a bill into law Wednesday that gives police agencies about a year to create policies regarding the use of body cameras, which will be reviewed by a group made up of prosecutors and law enforcement personnel. The policies are expected to cover which officers will wear the equipment, when the cameras should and should not be turned on, whether victims must give permission to be recorded and how long the videos should be stored.

The bill-signing ceremony took place in North Charleston, site of the police shooting that helped spur lawmakers to pass a body-cam bill. The bill became a priority after a cell-phone video taken by a passerby showed 50-year-old being shot by a policeman several times in the back when he attempted to flee after a routine traffic stop.

The new law creates a special fund to provide money to law enforcement agencies to buy body cameras for nearly all officers in the state and to cover the cost of storing data and maintaining the equipment. Sponsors believe the year-long process will give lawmakers time to find the money.

Unfortunately, the bill also heavily restricts when videos from the cameras can be made public. Some supporters said they would rather err on the side of caution rather than invade the privacy of an innocent person whose actions recorded on a body cam could end up going viral on the Internet.

But this cautious approach could blunt the effectiveness of using body cams in the first place. The primary function of these devices is not simply to record what happens when officers interact with citizens but also to deter bad behavior on the part of both.

http://www.heraldonline.com

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