After years of mounting pressure to make a decision on state-owned Santee Cooper, South Carolina lawmakers returned to Columbia on Tuesday and convened the 2021 legislative session. Lawmakers wasted no time getting started on debating the future of the debt-ridden utility.
In less than 30 minutes of debate, the House Ways and Means Committee approved House Bill 3194. This bill would authorize the General Assembly to sell the public utility (debt and all) to a private party, and sets up the procedures for any sale: by appointing a special committee to negotiate the sale.
As the House focused on its plan, two more bills were filed in the State Senate on Tuesday. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Hugh Leatherman and Senator Tom Davis each filed their own plans for the state-owned utility. Leatherman’s bill is similar to the House plan and establishes procedures for any potential sale. Davis’ bill calls for the utility to be transferred to a multi-state electricity distribution system called a regional transmission organization that currently does not operate in the state.
While addressing the committee during the afternoon hearing, Ways and Means Chairman, Representative Murrell Smith summed up the General Assembly’s sentiment toward Santee Cooper, saying, “I’ve yet to find anyone in here that says Santee Cooper ought to continue as is.”
The bill will now advance to the full House for debate while the bills filed by Leatherman and Davis move to the Senate committees. It’s been three years since the state-owned utility pulled the plug on its failed VC Summer nuclear project and lawmakers are finally taking action to solve the largest financial disaster in our state’s history. If the fast pace at which lawmakers are moving is an indicator, the prospects of Santee Cooper remaining a state-owned utility is looking less and less likely.