Throwback Thursday: Keeping the Governor out of Santee Cooper

May 23, 2019

Inside Insight

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The S.C. Senate’s verdict on the best way to sell Santee Cooper could be summed up this way: For this to work, the governor has to stay out of it – and if he doesn’t, lawmakers will vote against whatever position he is pushing.

Senators during this week’s special session debated a resolution to solicit binding offers for the state-owned utility. However, the governor – unlike senators – is held accountable by the entire state and represents the interests of every single taxpayer – one key reason the Santee Cooper advisory board (comprised of five statewide officers including the governor) should be the entity executing the sale of Santee Cooper.

Despite this, shutting the governor out of the picture is typical of lawmakers’ approach to Santee Cooper. As this week’s throwback shows, lawmakers have deliberately removed the governor’s ability to exercise any meaningful accountability over Santee Cooper’s governing board, despite that it is an executive function. The results speak for themselves: Santee Cooper ratepayers all over the state are facing significant future power bill increases to pay off billions of debt for a nuclear project that will never be completed.

The governor’s perspective is a statewide perspective. If the sale of Santee Cooper is to benefit taxpayers, it must be done in a transparent, accountable way – and that means involving the governor.

You gotta serve someone

In the nukes debacle, Santee Cooper seemed alone and sleepy

Chairman Russel Ott appeared frustrated sitting across from outgoing Santee Cooper CEO Lonnie Carter during Tuesday’s House Utility Ratepayer Protection committee hearing.

“So you don’t know why the board’s not here?” asked Ott.

“I didn’t know they were invited. I don’t think they knew they were invited,” replied Carter.

“I don’t think that’s correct,” said Ott.

Throughout the construction of the two V.C. Summer nuclear reactors that were abandoned July 31, Santee Cooper has loomed in the background as a junior partner to private utility SCANA. However, as Carter has noted, Santee Cooper has been integral to the project.

More importantly, Santee Cooper is a government agency that’s supposed to operate for the benefit of taxpayers.

So it’s alarming that its board didn’t show for a committee hearing that was slated solely for testimony by Santee Cooper’s leadership.

One thing seems clear: Santee Cooper’s board doesn’t feel accountable.

This is at least partly due to the fact that in 2005, legislators removed the governor’s ability to fire Santee Cooper board members unless they commit a serious infraction under the law. As a result, Santee Cooper’s decisions go unchecked, and those decisions significantly impact ratepayers.

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