Throwback Thursday: Advisory board should oversee Santee Cooper sale

June 20, 2019

Inside Insight

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Yesterday the Santee Cooper Advisory Board (comprised of five statewide-elected officers including the governor) met for the first time in decades – at least – to execute one of their key statutory roles: the selection of an external auditor for the state-owned utility. The advisory board’s role has been forgotten and neglected for years, with only the SC Policy Council and The Nerve pointing out a) its existence, and b) its statutory responsibilities of oversight on behalf of the people of South Carolina.

In fact, the advisory board – as discussed in the SC Policy Council’s Santee Cooper policy recommendations attached below – should be in charge of the sale process, which should start with a moratorium on all non-essential activity and an in-depth, comprehensive audit with all findings disclosed to the public. Santee Cooper is the property of South Carolinians, and the process of selling it should be accountable to them.

Even though yesterday’s meeting was perfunctory at best, with the advisory board merely rubberstamping the staff-recommended incumbent auditor of the last fifteen years or so, key questions and issues were raised for the first time since the V.C. Summer disaster hit the news. For instance, did the auditor know about the Bechtel report detailing the problems with V.C. Summer? If so, why was that not revealed in Santee Cooper’s financials?

One thing was clear from this meeting: that there is a reason this board exists and is required to oversee the audit. This body is both independent from the utility and directly accountable to the entire state, and it’s time for the board to take its responsibilities seriously.

Selling Santee Cooper: First Things First

Two committees comprised almost entirely of lawmakers are currently exploring the possibility of selling state-owned utility Santee Cooper. Not only is this beyond the proper jurisdiction of legislators – whose job is simply to establish laws – but their approach is leaving citizens in the dark.

Santee Cooper is the property of the taxpayers, not the government, and any exploration of a sale must be conducted in a fully transparent, accountable process.

Who should sell Santee Cooper?

If Santee Cooper were a private corporation rather than a state agency, its board of directors would (hypothetically) negotiate the sale. In this case, however, state law prohibits the board from even exploring a sale without a vote by lawmakers. More importantly, Santee Cooper’s board showed itself incapable of proper management and oversight throughout the V.C. Summer nuclear fiasco, which resulted in billions of debt owed by ratepayers.

However, a statutory advisory board comprised of five constitutional officers – the Governor, Attorney General, Treasurer, Comptroller General, and Secretary of State – and charged with overseeing Santee Cooper is perfectly positioned to oversee this process.

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