Lexington County Chronicle
February 20, 2020

Santee Cooper plan a deal killer
Buyer wants added $2.3B consumer debt

By Jerry Bellune

The winning bidder to buy Santee Cooper wants $2.3 billion for new plants.

NextEra Energy wants member owners of Mid-Carolina Electric in Lexington County and 19 other cooperatives to pay for the new power plants – even if they are never completed.

NextEra’s pitch smacks of the Base Load Review Act, the controversial law that enabled SC Electric & Gas to charge ratepayers $2 billion for 2 unfinished nuclear reactors, the Charleston Post and Courier reported.

Stowed away in NextEra’s multi-billion-dollar bid are these requests that worry lawmakers, attorneys and consumer advocates.

NextEra wants to avoid investor-owned utility regulations to win pre-approval for at least 4 years of spending on new projects.

This is 1 of 3 difficult choices for lawmaker.

If lawmakers choose to keep Santee Cooper as a state agency, cooperative members may have to pay off almost $7 billion in debt.

The 2nd option is to let Lexington County-based Dominion Energy take over management, leaving coop members with the debt.

A number of lawmakers say they are concerned it will give Dominion too much power in the state.

Frank Knapp, SC Small Business Chamber of Commerce CEO and an intervenor in rate hearings said he supports the Next Era proposal with a proviso.

“We will want to make sure the final language of the legislation protects small businesses,” he said.

Knapp said NextEra has a proven record of saving ratepayers money.

“NextEra proposes to absorb the nuclear debt and an additional $3 billion of Santee Cooper’s other debt.

“NextEra offers to pay back ratepayers almost $1 billion for past higher rates.”

Tom Clements of Savannah River Watch and a close observer of Santee Cooper’s role in the failed nuclear project, reminded lawmakers of the utility’s “adamant refusal to face up to the nuclear train wreck.”

Of any Santee Cooper reforms, he said, “It would take a lot of convincing to trust anything they say.”

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