Blog by Frank Knapp Jr., president and CEO of the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce

April 9, 2020

“It is evident that Santee Cooper suffers from a broken corporate culture that is deeply ingrained in your leadership. It is a shame that the leaders of what was once one of this state’s greatest assets suffer from such arrogance and ambivalence as to behave in the manner you have.”—House Speaker Jay Lucas to Santee Cooper CEO Mark Bonsall and Board Chairman Dan Ray in an April 8, 2020, letter.

Santee Cooper’s “status quo” campaign to prevent the public utility from being sold has consisted of obstruction, delay and bogus promises of reform.

This week Santee Cooper graduated to outright lying to the legislature.

Maayan Schechter of The State writes:

Lucas was upset by what he and other lawmakers have characterized as misleading comments made by Santee Cooper officials as lawmakers worked toward their emergency agreement to keep government open.

Santee Cooper was trying to convince the General Assembly not to extend Act 95, which was passed last year to examine the sale, management or reform of the beleaguered state agency.

For Santee Cooper it was critical that the legislature’s one-day session yesterday not include a continuation of Act 95 beyond May, when the legislative session officially ends.

A major issue for many legislators has been that Santee Cooper has had a terrible relationship with Central Electric Power Cooperative, which purchases much of the public utility’s power for the state’s electric cooperatives.  Legislators want this relationship improved.

So, Santee Cooper sent emails to some legislators claiming that the utility had won over Central Electric Power Cooperative on the utility’s plans to improve efficiency and reduce costs.

None of this was true.

Caught with making false claims, a Santee Cooper spokesperson admitted that the email’s claims were “premature and presumptive”.

Speaker Lucas had a more accurate description of the Santee Cooper emails—”false, misleading information”.

Santee Cooper’s financial problems all started with a previous CEO, Lonnie Carter, who led his Board of Directors down the path of $4 billion in construction debt for its failed nuclear project with SCE&G.

Carter and SCE&G’s top execs continued to tell SCE&G investors, Santee Cooper bond holders, legislators and the public that the nuclear project was progressing well even when they knew it wasn’t.  Then on July 30, 2017, both utilities abandoned the project.  One month later Carter conveniently resigned from Santee Cooper, a state agency, with $800,000 in annual retirement benefits.

SCE&G execs have since been charged by the U.S. Security and Exchange Commission with “defrauding investors by making false and misleading statements about a nuclear power plant expansion that was ultimately abandoned.”

On-going federal investigations might yet find Carter also guilty on similar charges of knowing deception.

Which brings us back to current Santee Cooper CEO Mark Bonsall who is being paid $1.1 million a year.  Bonsall has led the defiant efforts to block the sale of Santee Cooper to a private utility.  Efforts that can only be characterized as obstruction, delay and bogus promises of reform.

And now lying to legislators.

Lyrics written by Peter Townshend of The Who said it best in a song appropriately entitled “Won’t Get Fooled Again”.

“Meet the new boss.  Same as the old boss.”

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