Lexington County Chronicle
May 2, 2019
By Frank Knapp, Jr., Special to the Chronicle
Last week the SC Small Business Chamber of Commerce conducted our 4th town hall on the possible sale of Santee Cooper.
The taxpayer-owned utility is $7.2 billion to $8 billion in debt, with $4 billion due to its failed $9 billion nuclear construction project in Fairfield County.
Our public meetings in Charleston, Myrtle Beach, Orangeburg and Rock Hill were well attended by Santee Cooper supporters.
By the time you read this we will have also held town halls in Sumter and Lexington. The meetings to date have been civil and characterized by constructive conversation.
My presentation focused on:
• The chamber’s support for selling Santee Cooper to remove ratepayer responsibly for the nuclear debt, if not all debt.
• A fast way to replace the utility’s costly and dirty coal plants to renewable energy and new generation gas plants.
• A plan to protect local economies.
Santee Cooper retirees and current employees expressed their concerns about their retirement and health insurance.
They wanted to know how all the lake and water management responsibilities of the utility would be effectively handled.
They were also concerned about local economies and eagerly referred to the Santee Cooper legacy of providing power to the rural communities and developing manufacturing in our state.
After respectful discussions, we all found common ground in agreeing that the state should conduct a detailed examination of all formal proposals for Santee Cooper’s future: sale, a management contract and/or reforms. They said that they wanted the opportunity for Santee Cooper to compete with other proposals to show how “their utility” could address the critics; concerns.
I use “their utility” intentionally.
What came through loud and clear at every town hall was that this issue was personal. The 85-year legacy of Santee Cooper was part of their identity.
Nothing demonstrates their commitment more than this exchange at one town hall.
Thomas retired from Santee Cooper after 30 years as did his father.
Thomas was asked, “If all the concerns that you have raised about the sale of Santee Cooper were satisfactorily resolved including health insurance, water management, employees’ retirement, etc., would you support selling the utility?”
Thomas quickly responded that he would not. He was willing to pay 12% higher rates for up to 30 years, costing him $6,200 or more, to keep Santee Cooper as it is.
Utility supporters at the town halls mostly refrained from erroneous and unsubstantiated statements to buttress their opposition to a sale. But some now use fear tactics such as Santee Cooper customers will end up paying for all debt and health insurance for retirees will “triple or quadruple in price.”
Legislators need to understand the emotional attachment Santee Cooper supporters have to “their utility.” Yet ratepayers and taxpayers deserve a resolution soon to this crisis that is in their best interest.
Mr. Knapp is the President/CEO of the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce.