FCC Releases Plan for Rural Broadband

Without much fanfare, on February 7, 2020, the FCC released its report outlining the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund. This $20.4 billion fund is intended to extend broadband service to rural areas where it is currently unavailable. The plan will be implemented in two phases. Phase I, scheduled to launch October 22, 2020, will make $16 billion in funding available to participating carriers to extend service to locations in census blocks that have no broadband service. This controversial criterion could make funding unavailable to unserved areas within large, sparsely populated, census blocks, often found in rural areas. Nevertheless, the FCC estimates there are 120,000 bid eligible locations in South Carolina. Phase II will target unserved areas that do not receive service as a result of Phase I. If you don’t feel like tackling the FCC’s 62 page single-spaced order and report, the Benton Institute for Broadband and Society has an excellent summary.

SC Dept of Admin Recommends NextEra's bid for Santee Cooper

The State and the Post and Courier are both reporting that the SC Department of Administration has issued its report on bids for the sale and management of Santee Cooper. According to both news outlets DOA has recommended NextEra’s bid to buy Santee Cooper and Dominion’s bid to manage the state owned utility. The report would also include an evaluation of Santee Cooper’s own proposal regarding its future.

New Jersey's Incentive Based E.E. program

Utility Dive reports on an energy efficiency program proposed by the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities which would provide utilities with cost recovery for their energy efficiency. The program would also provide incentives and penalties depending on whether the utilities’ energy efficiency initiatives achieve their goals.

Some interesting components of the plan include discounting the cost recovery for energy efficiency programs by 200 points from the utility’s approved ROE, in recognition of the diminished risk resulting from guaranteed cost recovery and the nature of the investment versus traditional utility plants.

The program also provides rewards and penalties depending on a program’s results. Utilities will receive a bonus for over performing but would be penalized for under performing. See the chart below:

The proposal is in a public comment period. It will be interesting to see how it develops.

Ruth Sackett Thomas, 1921-2020

Sammy Fretwell reported the death of Ruth Sackett Thomas in The State today. She was 99 years old. Many of you will remember Ms. Thomas as a very determined senior citizen who participated in many energy related dockets at the Public Service Commission. Ms. Thomas was a dedicated environmentalist and ardent opponent of nuclear expansion. Her politeness was coupled with a steely resolve to get her point across, which she consistently did with eloquence. Ms. Thomas will be missed, and we extend our condolences to her family and friends.

It's Time to Give to the Woodyard Fund

Every winter, The State promotes the Woodyard Fund, a local charity with more than two century old roots. The Woodyard Fund, administered by the Salvation Army, provides needy families with help paying their utility bills. The need can be particularly acute this time of year, when temperatures dip. Please send your donations to The Woodyard Fund, c/o The Salvation Army of the Midlands, P.O. Box 2786, Columbia, SC 29202. Make checks payable to The Woodyard Fund. All donations are tax-deductible.