We’re going into another week of the 2020 South Carolina legislative session and while progress continues to be made on one pressing issue another has stalled yet again.
Earlier this month, the Department of Administration handed over a report to lawmakers with its three recommendations for the future of Santee Cooper.
Currently owned and operated by the state, Santee Cooper is $8 billion in debt, half of which stems from the failed V.C. Summer project which was abandoned back in 2017. Since then, lawmakers have been trying to figure out what to do with the utility. Meanwhile, the utility, which has no oversight, must raise electric rates to pay off the debt at some point despite Santee Cooper’s claim of a near-term rate freeze.
Lawmakers will continue to discuss the three proposals this week. Of the three proposals, one is a bid to purchase the utility entirely, one is a bid to manage, and one is a reform plan from Santee Cooper itself.
The report, which was released earlier this month, unveiled details of the management bid submitted by Dominion Energy, the bid to purchase submitted by NextEra Energy, and the reform plan proposed by Santee Cooper.
Virginia-based Dominion Energy purchased SCE&G last year, a move that many former SCE&G customers are still dissatisfied with. The proposal submitted by Dominion states that three or more key management positions at Santee Cooper would be filled by top Dominion employees, and it also states that the plan should happen in tandem with Santee Cooper’s reform plan but does nothing to pay off the company’s debt.
The reform plan presented by Santee Cooper includes a workforce reduction and a plan to lower customer rates over a 20-year period. However, some are skeptical of the plan given that similar claims have been made by the utility who promises a rate freeze but eventually will have to raise electric rates over the years to pay off its debt because its customers are the only source of revenue.
The last option, made by Florida-based NextEra Energy, is the most dynamic of the three. Similar to Santee Cooper’s reform plan, it includes a workforce reduction; however, the proposal states that the company would pay off Santee Cooper’s debt and relieve Santee Cooper’s two million direct serve and electric co-op customers of the responsibility. The proposal also includes the acquisition of both Lake Marion and Lake Moultrie, a four-year rate freeze, and nearly $1 billion in relief to customers.
In a quote provided to the State, Travis Miller, a utilities’ analyst for Morningstar Inc. said, “NextEra is definitely the cream of the crop and could get it done if anybody could get it done.”
Now, lawmakers have thirty days to make their recommendations.
While this is good news for the customers who have been waiting for an answer on the future of Santee Cooper, many South Carolinians are upset about the lack of movement on the education front.
The Senate debated on the “South Carolina Career Opportunity and Access For All Act” until 11:30 pm last Tuesday.
The debate will continue. According to the Senate Journal, over 100 amendments to the bill have been debated so far.
What are your thoughts on the three proposals for Santee Cooper, and do you think more focus should be put on education?