This week Santee Cooper executives testified at the SC Senate Select Committee on Santee Cooper, which is exploring the options for addressing the state-owned utility’s $4 billion debt resulting from its 45 percent ownership of the failed nuclear project in Fairfield County. The utility also owes over $4 billion more in other bonds.
The hearing had several astonishing highlights.
Santee Cooper executives revealed that it has not changed its 20-year plan in the year and a half since it abandoned the nuclear construction project in July of 2017. That plan relied on the new nuclear plants to modernize and diversify its electricity generation as well as meet Santee Cooper’s anticipated need for more power by 2032.
Such a plan should have included details on converting Santee Cooper’s coal plants to natural gas. The utility’s COO acknowledged at the hearing on Tuesday that gas plants might be the utility’s future.
While the Select Committee had earlier expressed a desire to save money in its efforts to collect needed information for its process, Santee Cooper acknowledged that it has been spending upwards of $150 thousands per month on a contract with Centerview Partners, described on its website as “a leading independent investment banking and advisory firm” that “provides advice on mergers and acquisitions, financial restructurings, valuation, and capital structure to companies, institutions and governments.” Centerview has offices in New York, London, San Francisco, Palo Alto and Los Angeles.
“Why has Santee Cooper executives failed to do the most obvious planning needed for it and its customers’ future energy needs,” asked Frank Knapp Jr., president and CEO of the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce. “They either have long ago decided that the utility would be sold so why plan or, as the excessive contract with Centerview Partners might indicate, Santee Cooper intends to try to survive as a state agency by slowing the legislative process and run out the clock on purchase offers.”
“Either way the only hope for removing the $4 to $9 billion of Santee Cooper debt from its and the electric cooperatives’ ratepayers does not lie in keeping this inept or deceptive state agency. The only hope is to sell Santee Cooper to a private, well-run and well-financed utility.”
The Senate Select Committee will hold another meeting to hear from Santee Cooper executives.
The South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce is a statewide advocacy organization founded in 2000. With over 10,000 small business and entrepreneur supporters, it has successfully worked to make South Carolina more small business friendly in areas such as healthcare, taxation, regulation, worker training, energy/conservation, workers’ compensation and economic development.