South Carolina

SC’s top utility watchdog retired amid nuclear fiasco. He quietly returned a year later

The former director of South Carolina’s utility watchdog, who retired last year amid criticism his agency failed to protect South Carolinians from rate hikes for a nuclear plant that was never completed, has been back at the agency for months as a paid consultant.

Dukes Scott is making $4,000 a month to advise the Office of Regulatory Staff, the agency he led from its creation in 2004 until January 2018, on strategy and personnel matters and to provide institutional knowledge.

The 70-year-old former administrative law judge typically works 40 hours to 50 hours a month for the agency, often at its downtown Columbia offices, the agency told The State this week.

In a statement, Regulatory Staff Executive Director Nanette Edwards, who worked under Scott before he retired, said she hired him “to ensure a seamless transition while retaining access to historical information to which only the prior executive director of ORS would be privy.

“His institutional memory has been crucial during this transition,” Edwards wrote. “We have consulted with him regarding various personnel matters to ensure we have the best people in the right jobs and other budget and other administrative matters to ensure that ORS can continue to focus on its mission.”

S.C. House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, who initially called for Scott’s resignation shortly after the V.C. Summer construction project collapsed, said he was “astonished to learn that Mr. Scott has been rehired.

“I hope that the ORS did not bring him back to assist them in continuing the previous, failed culture,” Lucas wrote in a statement. “The primary reason I called for Mr. Scott’s resignation in 2017 was that it was clear that what ORS had been doing was not successful. Drawing on previous poor choices is not how ORS will protect the ratepayers of South Carolina.”

Scott was initially hired on Jan. 16, 2019 — a year after his retirement — for $100 an hour. His six-month contract was renewed for a year in July at a flat, monthly fee of $4,000.

He has been paid $29,510 so far. He makes that money in addition to his state retirement benefits, which are based on his former $175,117-a-year salary.

Scott’s return to Regulatory Staff was not publicly known previously. He has not attended public hearings to represent the agency, including one at the State House earlier this week.

It’s not unheard of for departing executives to be retained as consultants, typically to provide institutional knowledge or assist the search for a replacement.

The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control has a history of the practice. In 2015, it paid its former chief, Catherine Templeton, $86,500 over a five-month span to advise the agency as it searched for a new director.

In a deal that was called into question by Regulatory Staff last year, SCANA paid its former CEO, William Timmerman, $1.8 million in consulting fees starting the day after he retired in November 2011.

SCANA said it paid Timmerman $360,000 a year as a consultant on the V.C. Summer project, which began during his time as CEO. But the utility couldn’t produce any records of Timmerman’s supposed work.

Regulatory Staff provided evidence of Scott’s work product, including emails showing Scott has edited drafts of staff reports and letters to lawmakers and attended meetings with the agency’s Energy Office.

His invoices to Regulatory Staff show he worked on issues related to the solar energy legislation that passed this year and has been involved in human resources and personnel matters.

Scott retired from the agency in January 2018 after a withering five months in which the $9 billion V.C. Summer nuclear construction project his agency was monitoring was abruptly canceled and blame was spread in every conceivable direction.

During an investigative hearing less than a month after the project’s collapse, Scott wilted under intense questioning from House members about Regulatory Staff’s oversight of the project.

He frustrated lawmakers by telling them Regulatory Staff did not outright oppose any of the nine rate hikes SCE&G sought to pay for the project and that the agency’s hands were tied by lawmakers’ passage of the 2007 Base Load Review Act, which essentially guaranteed SCE&G’s ability to raise rates for V.C. Summer.

At one point, he told lawmakers he was taking anxiety medication to deal with the post-V.C. Summer stress.

Scott’s testimony was cut short, and later that day, S.C. House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, publicly asked for the agency head’s resignation.

Gov. Henry McMaster stepped in to protect Scott, but Scott announced that in December, he would retire.

In 2018, lawmakers acknowledged that Regulatory Staff was set up to fail by its statutory mission of advocating both for the ratepayers and their utilities, which regularly request rate hikes.

Within a year of the V.C. Summer project’s collapse, the General Assembly revised that mission, instructing the agency to focus on its role as a watchdog for customers.

Note: This story has been corrected to reflect that Scott works 40 to 50 hours a month for Regulatory Staff, not 40 to 50 hours a week.

Related stories from Durham Herald Sun

Avery G. Wilks is The State’s senior S.C. State House and politics reporter. He was named the 2018 S.C. Journalist of the Year by the South Carolina Press Association. He grew up in Chester, S.C., and graduated from the University of South Carolina’s top-ranked Honors College in 2015.