I Took a Quiz and Cried

August 7, 2018


This article was originally published by Energy Consumer of the Carolinas on August 7, 2018.

I recently took the “Can You Ace the Santee Cooper Quiz?”  Will you please take it too?

I cried. No, I was not worried about my personal performance or grade. And although the sound was the same, I was not reminded of the time in graduate school during a finance exam when the tears were dripping off my glasses making an annoying PLOP! sound on the page. These tears were worse. I was actually overcome with despair and reminded of the time when I was in Leadership Savannah and we visited the Coastal State Prison. Recidivism was the word of the day and I could see no way out.

As I took the Palmetto Promise Institute (PPI) quiz about the impacts of the failed VC Summer nuclear plant, the overwhelming despair was the same. I learned that South Carolina-owned Santee Cooper owes $4.574 billion in principal and interest for its share in the failed nuclear plant construction (total losses are even greater). I also learned that since there are no shareholders, the customers or ratepayers are each estimated to pay up to an average of $1,292 every year for this burden. Wow, $1,292! For perspective, that amount is the same price as a business class plane ticket from New York to Buenos Aires and this is the elite type of flying that includes an almost lie-flat (170 degree recline) for one leg and fully-lie flat seats for the other.

Unfortunately, even if the average Santee Cooper customer could eliminate such a travel expense one time or could give up a Starbucks $4 coffee 323 times to be able to absorb the $1,292, doing so would only help for one year. PPI estimates that it could take up to 38 years for Santee Cooper customers to pay off the debt. Therefore the average Santee Cooper could expect to pay up to $49,100 towards the debt. This is what made me cry with despair.

My daughter is a brilliant high school senior speaking to the world’s top universities about her upcoming college education. She is likely to end up with about $49,000 of debt. This is a choice she and I will be able to make together. It is one with a trade off. She gets an incredible experience, lifelong network of amazing friends, and a diploma of accomplishment. In return, she will be responsible to pay a large sum over many years. In contrast the average Santee Cooper customer has no choice and no benefit but all the same staggering costs.

Yet, many South Carolinians are on track for a similar burden with no trade off and no choice.

PPI estimates that all of the amounts described above will be covered with a 29% increase in electricity rates including the 15.2% increase already imposed and an estimated additional 13.7% increase. Some individuals footing the bill are wealthy. Many are not. According to the Census ACS 1-year survey, the median household income for South Carolina was $49,501 in 2016.

Further, what happens when this burden falls on people who rent rather than own? Renters cannot make many important choices about energy efficiency. Renters cannot access all of potential benefits of solar and wind energy solutions. What happens when this burden falls on people who already barely live paycheck to paycheck in terribly energy inefficient double wide trailers? What is the way out? What are their options?

So as you complete your back to school shopping and prepare for the season of quiz taking for school children, won’t you pause to take the PPI quiz too? I look forward to hearing about your experience.