Yesterday marked the first day that South Carolina legislators started the discussion on legislation that would authorize the State Department of Administration to move forward with a competitive bidding process for Santee Cooper.
Senator Leatherman, R-Florence, kicked off the conversation with Senator Rankin, R-Horry, noting the missteps taken by Santee Cooper’s leadership. He finished by stating he didn’t favor selling nor favor keeping Santee Cooper and felt that they needed to review all options before making a decision.
Following Sen. Leatherman was Senator Massey, R-Edgefield, who gave more background on how Santee Cooper got in this position in the first place, “We need to take a few steps back before we get into a conversation –before we talk about whether to sell or not to sell — to figure out how we got in this position.”
He went on to explain that back in the 2007-2008 timeframe, Santee Cooper and, at the time, SCANA announced their decision to pursue nuclear power. At that time both companies entered into a partnership and began their failed V.C. Summer nuclear project.
Due to the fact that South Carolina hadn’t constructed a nuclear power generating plant in over forty years, both companies decided to hire Westinghouse to help move the project forward. However, they quickly realized that Westinghouse wasn’t competent enough to handle the project.
Fast forward to August 31, 2017, when the announcement to abandon the project was made.
Senator Massey went on to disclose that if you were to look at documents dating back to 2011 there were already conversations going on that proved Santee Cooper leadership knew this project was going downhill and was going to fail. However, not one time did Santee Cooper leadership bring any of these issues to the general assembly. They continued their involvement and as Sen. Massey said, “they kept plunging money into [the project].”
He pointed out that about 5 percent of customers’ utility rates is going towards paying off the V.C. Summer debt and Santee Cooper is projecting that rates will rise between 12 and 14 percent for years to come to help pay off the debt. Which he said was just “Santee Cooper’s estimates.”
While this has been ongoing for many months, all senators who spoke today made it a point to say that they didn’t want to rush into a decision. But, Sen. Massey grew frustrated that this has been going on for so long and nothing has been done to fix these issues.
Having been involved in conversations from the time it was finally brought to light by Santee Cooper leadership, Sen. Massey said “One of the things that frustrates me is this didn’t happen yesterday. We all learned about it almost two years ago and they really haven’t done a whole lot to fix any of the problems.”
While a decision won’t be made today or even tomorrow, Sen. Leatherman made sure to note that he had no intentions in sending this issue back to the joint-committee, and Sen. Massey hopes to have a decision before the end of this legislative session in May.
Whatever decision they come to, the Senate recognizes that Santee Cooper might not have the right leadership in place. “There’s a real question whether they have people in the decision making positions they need to be for running a utility,” Sen. Massey stated.
The conversation is set to continue tomorrow.