Poll: South Carolinians still unaware of Santee Cooper debt debacle

October 16, 2018

It’s been over a year since Santee Cooper and SCE&G (SCANA) pulled the plug on its V.C. Summer nuclear project. But an alarming number of South Carolinians are still in the dark on the details of that failed gambit.

While the abandoned project saddled the state-run utility’s customers with billions of dollars in debt, that may be news to them – if a new poll released by the South Carolina Club for Growth is any indication.

By and large, residents are simply unaware of Santee Cooper’s foregone V.C. Summer project. Less than half of South Carolinians, the poll found, are familiar with the incident. What’s worse, restricting the results to just customers of Santee Cooper and its affiliated co-ops hardly elevates those figures: While 48 percent of South Carolinians statewide claim some familiarity with the boondoggle, only 46 percent of Santee Cooper customers reported such knowledge.

Those results are troubling, to be sure: Without sufficient knowledge of the massive debt incurred by Santee Cooper’s failings, South Carolinians – and Santee Cooper ratepayers in particular – are ill-positioned to pressure public officials to take the steps necessary to relieve them of that costly burden.

What’s reassuring, however, is that the more respondents learned about the Santee Cooper’s dire finances, the more inclined they were to support those necessary measures, the poll found.

Once introduced to information such as the utility rate increases Santee Cooper’s debt would necessitate, for example, or potential provisions that would govern the sale of the utility to a private company, respondents strongly favored privatization.

Prior to learning those details, the poll recorded a razor-thin margin between those who supported state ownership over utilities and those who opposed such an arrangement – 25.9 percent and 28.7 percent, respectively. After learning about utility’s massive debt, however, the percentage of respondents who supported selling Santee Cooper or converting it to a private company spiked 15 points, and those supporting state ownership dipped eight points.

The question of paying down Santee Cooper’s $14.9 billion in combined debt was the largest factor that moved the needle on public opinion, making respondents 72 percent more likely to favor selling the utility. Preservation of natural resources in the event of a sale also heavily influenced poll results: Respondents were 71.4 percent more likely to favor selling the utility to a private entity, provided that public lands and waterways remain protected.

It is not the fault of South Carolina taxpayers for Santee Cooper’s failed V.C. Summer undertaking. And when presented with the price tag, South Carolinians justifiably deny responsibility for the state’s financial nuclear disaster.