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Dominion Energy's agreement with SCANA provides a public affairs case study

A fascinating case study in public affairs is unfolding in South Carolina, where Dominion Energy is seeking approval for its proposed offer to take over SCANA Corp. As an article posted Thursday to Columbia's hometown newspaper, The State, lays out nicely, Dominion thus far doesn't appear to have won many converts to its effort.

"S.C. lawmakers have heard what Dominion Energy has to offer, and they think South Carolina can get a better deal," states the article's opening paragraph. "(S)ome lawmakers publicly are asking for a competing offer."

Viewing this event from a distance, one has to wonder what public opinion surveys and/or focus groups are revealing to Dominion about its prospects to get this deal approved. Are lawmakers and their constituents sufficiently scarred by the abandoned V.C. Summer nuclear plant expansion that any first offer from any outside party would meet resistance? Is Dominion finding indications that, if given time to do in-state spade work, it can make the education inroads needed to overcome the current skepticism? Are there third-party "influentials" -- individuals and organizations -- who can garner the support that, to date, Dominion CEO Tom Farrell hasn't succeeding in getting?

The Charleston newspaper, The Post and Courier, on Jan. 10 published an excellent article examining the more visible elements of Dominion Energy's campaign to win approval for the SCANA deal.  

"Then Dominion started running ads touting the refund and rate rollback in promoted Facebook and Twitter posts. It took out full-page ads in newspapers The State of Columbia and The Post and Courier in Charleston. Its executives were interviewed on morning news segments at local television stations. And the company announced more than $1 million in charitable donations to groups throughout South Carolina," the article reports.

We do get a glimpse into Dominion's public opinion findings in remarks from Dominion spokesman Chet Wade. Paraphrasing, the article reports that "a key question" is "when customers will receive their refund checks." Dominion's agreement with SCANA stipulates that, within 90 days of completion of the merger, there will be a $1.3 billion cash payment worth $1,000 for the average residential electric customer.

As this business drama plays out, it's also going to be interesting to see the impact of events that are "external," so to speak, to the lobbying, outreach and advertising efforts that the company controls. A prime example: Friday's report from the S.C. Office of Regulatory Staff to the effect that SCE&G, a SCANA subsidiary, probably would not need to file for bankruptcy if the legislature were to reduce customers' rates by repealing the 2007 law that permits a surcharge for the now-abandoned V.C. Summer expansion. Dominion and SCE&G officials maintain otherwise.



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