Santee Cooper: No plan to pay off $4B nuke debt. Officials pay $250,000 a month for advice

Santee Cooper: No plan to pay off $4B nuke debt. Officials pay $250,000 a month for advice

Lexington County Chronicle
March 21, 2019

By Jerry Bellune

Santee Cooper officials say they have no $4 billion nuclear debt recovery plan.

In what some call an astonishing admission, the officials who supply electricity for Mid-Carolina Electric members in Lexington County, also revealed they have been paying an investment banking firm $250,000 a month for advice.

Whatever happens to the taxpayer-owned utility will have a large impact on Mid-Carolina and other cooperative members in SC.

The officials testified before the Senate Select Committee on Santee Cooper last week. The senators are looking at how to pay off the taxpayer-owned utility’s $4 billion nuclear project debt and another $4 billion owed on other bonds.

The officials admitted they have not changed a 20-year plan in 18 months since they abandoned twin $9 billion reactors they were building with SC Electric & Gas.

Their plan relied on the twin nuclear plants to modernize their electricity generation and meet Santee Cooper’s anticipated needs for more power by 2032.

Such a plan should have included details on converting Santee Cooper’s coal plants to natural gas.

Senators had said they aimed to save money on Santee Cooper. But the officials said they spent upwards of $150,000 a month with Centerview Partners.

The firm describes itself 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.”

“Why have Santee Cooper executives failed to do the most obvious planning needed for it and its customers’ future energy needs?” asked Frank Knapp, president and CEO of the SC Small Business Chamber.

“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,” Knapp said.

“The only hope for removing the $4 billion 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 utility.”