Featured Image Source: Tim Dominick, The State
Last month, South Carolina Senate President Harvey Peeler introduced legislation that would allow Governor McMaster to oversee the sale of state-owned utility Santee Cooper.
McMaster has been vocal about his support for the sale due to their enormous and increasing $7.2 billion debt; however, many Senators were hesitant at the start. Support for the sale began to increase after key Santee Cooper executives were unable to answer many questions asked by senators during their testimony.
One question they were unable to answer is how the debt would be paid without raising utility rates for the next four decades, worrying Santee Cooper direct-serve and coop customers and South Carolina taxpayers.
With town hall meetings being held all over the state to discuss the Santee Cooper issue, many South Carolina residents expressed their concerns. Senior citizens on fixed incomes voiced their fear of rising rates and possibly not being able to afford power.
In a recent survey, 71% of participants said they favored selling Santee Cooper to a private utility and getting the government out of the utility business.
After months of weighing options and waiting, the Senate will begin to debate on the legislation today, Tuesday, April 23, and if passed, it will allow the governor’s administration to begin a competitive bidding process.
There are already bids that have been reviewed by ICF International, a Virginia-based consulting firm, and four of those bids were full-purchase proposals. Three of the four would pay off the debt with no request to recover the costs and the fourth bid would fully assume the debt.
While Santee Cooper has some of the lowest utility rates in the state, a change from previously having the lowest rates after a 5% rate increase a few years ago to help cover the already building debt from the V.C. Summer project, this isn’t expected to stay the same if the utility is not sold. Customers will continue to see rate increases for years to come if the government continues to run Santee Cooper.