The Berkeley Independent
January 29, 2021
By Frank Knapp Jr. South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce
The South Carolina House of Representatives has passed House Bill 3194, re-establishing a process for a potential sale of Santee Cooper while also outlining significant reforms to the state-owned utility.
The South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce applauds the House for taking this vital step toward selling the state-owned utility, the only way to remove the burden of billions of debt from Santee Cooper customers and usher in a cleaner energy future for the people of South Carolina.
H.3194 also includes language that attempts to reform Santee Cooper. Our General Assembly has devoted much time and energy to addressing the glaring problems with the self-regulated utility. However, crafting changes that would bring real accountability and consumer-oriented reforms to Santee Cooper only underscores the fact that, as the old saying goes, you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.
The bill tries to inject a regulatory process on Santee Cooper as is the case for investor-owned utilities. It outlines roles for the Office of Regulatory Staff (ORS), the Department of Consumer Affairs, the Public Service Commission, intervenors, public hearings and even the South Carolina Supreme Court. Yet, after all this the bill acknowledges that the authority to set rates permanently or even on an interim basis for Santee Cooper customers rests solely with the utility’s Board of Directors.
Additionally, the new bonding process advocated in the bill would likely either eliminate any cost benefit Santee Cooper now claims it has over an investor-owned utility or it would make the state taxpayers clearly responsible for guaranteeing new bonds, something Santee Cooper has long argued is not the case today.
The South Carolina House deserves great praise for passing H.3194 and setting in motion a process for a potential sale and addressing reform immediately for Santee Cooper. This bill stands in stark contrast to Senator Rankin’s S.464, which pretends to reform Santee Cooper by limiting its board members to two consecutive terms – 14 years total! – and allowing an opportunity for the public and ORS to comment on rates but does not require Santee Cooper to take any action based on those comments.
Even with the inherent problems H.3194 has with its reform efforts, the Senate should pass the bill as-is to quickly move us to a resolution and bring this “rogue” agency under control by selling Santee Cooper.
In our opinion, the best path forward is to negotiate the best deal for selling Santee Cooper and stop trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.
Frank Knapp Jr. is the president and CEO of the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce.