Long but promising road lies ahead for Santee Cooper

May 24, 2019

Ellen Weaver

Former President & CEO

July 31, 2017: The news sent shock waves throughout the state.

It seemed almost too horrible to believe.

After sinking $9 billion, Santee Cooper and SCE&G would abandon V.C. Summer units 2 and 3. The massive expansion of the nuclear generation site in Fairfield County was being mothballed. Thousands would be out of work and thanks to the Base Load Review Act, several million utility customers would be on the hook for electricity that would never be produced.

As the news sank in, Palmetto Promise Institute began to assess the impact of the failure of V.C. Summer on our state and its citizens.

Throughout the fall of 2017, as another football season came and went, PPI watched and waited for someone—anyone—to step up for Santee Cooper customers. Thanks to the actions of two special legislative committees, the public did learn a lot about the demise of V.C. Summer, but there was a clear message: tackle SCE&G first, then Santee Cooper.

SCE&G customers, which included much of state government itself, were in a prime position to pressure the legislature to come to their aid. But, SCE&G had stockholders, the involvement of the Public Service Commission and the Office of Regulatory Staff, and a willing buyer. Santee Cooper, a state agency, had none of these—no investors, no outside oversight, no suitors.

There was also no analysis of Santee Cooper…outside of Santee Cooper itself. Rumors began to circulate that because the entire General Assembly would have to agree on a path forward for the agency, nothing would be done about Santee Cooper’s debt and rates…ever.

Finally, as the Christmas season of 2017 approached, Palmetto Promise Institute decided that if the policy implications of Santee Cooper’s situation were going to be studied, we would have to do it. Over the course of the next year, we released three major reports and a score of analysis, relying on some of the best minds in economics and in the utility business to get hard numbers. All of that research is catalogued here.

This week, it all paid off.

By joint resolution, the South Carolina General Assembly has now charted a path forward for Santee Cooper. The state Department of Administration will oversee a process, harnessing the power of independent expertise, that culminates in three options: an option for sale, an option for a management contract, and a proposal from Santee Cooper itself for “self-improvement.”

As we celebrate this remarkable achievement (the combined House and Senate vote was 143-7), we believe it is important to thank those who stepped up and showed incredible leadership over the last two years.

Governor McMaster was first out of the box to sound the alarm on behalf of vulnerable ratepayers.

In the House, Speaker Jay Lucas along with Murrell Smith, Peter McCoy, Russell Ott, Micah Caskey, Russell Fry, Gary Simrill, Todd Rutherford, Leon Stavrinakis, and Wendell Gilliard were essential in the Ratepayer Protection Committee, the Evaluation Committee, sponsorship of the legislation that became H.4287, and Floor action.

In the Senate, President Harvey Peeler got the ball rolling with his bold filing of S.678, then Shane Massey and Nikki Setzler skillfully hammered out a final version of the joint resolution and led two weeks of intense debate on the Floor.

A long road to resolution still lies ahead. And you can count on us to continue to provide you with key analysis as the process unfolds. But for now, Santee Cooper and Co-op customers—along with the taxpayers of South Carolina—owe a hearty thanks to all who helped this ship sail!