Medicate or Cure? Two Legislative Options for What Ails Santee Cooper

February 4, 2021

Oran P. Smith, Ph.D

Senior Fellow

palliate [ pal-ee-eyt ]

—to relieve or lessen without curing; mitigate; alleviate.

—to try to mitigate or ignore the gravity of (an offense) by excuses, apologies, etc.; extenuate.

The inescapable analogy for Santee Cooper is that of a toothache. Consider this…

In the wake of the V.C. Summer 2 & 3 debacle, the Pee Dee coal plant cancellation, the ill-fated gypsum contract, ongoing legal liability, and the pressure of these five factors, Santee Cooper is doing about as much as it can do given its narrow perception of its options.

Unable to accept the actual solution, sale, Santee Cooper leaders hope to rebate, refinance, and redirect attention until the COVID-fatigued General Assembly forgets about its massive ratepayer debt and moves on to redistricting and other legislative issues.

Returning to our dental analogy, some see the new Santee Cooper leadership (by comparison to the old) as stepping up its game dealing with that toothache, boldly replacing aspirin with Vicodin. But calming the throb (rejiggering the massive debt) does not remove the disease.

Thankfully, there is another option to palliative medication: cure. Selling the utility and removing the debt is the only cure. As with dentistry, an outside force that is both expert, and willing to operate is required to administer the cure.

Will the South Carolina General Assembly cure Santee Cooper? Or will it (as the definition reads above) ignore the gravity of the debt and simply ramp up the pain-killers?

The fate of Santee Cooper ratepayers and South Carolina taxpayers hangs on that crucial decision.