COLUMBIA, SC (WSPA) — When South Carolina lawmakers return to Columbia in January, a decision on the future of Santee Cooper could be looming.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic shortened the year’s legislative session, lawmakers were considering three bids for the state-owned utility, to sell it, reform it or allow another business to manage it.
Wednesday morning, a panel of House members got an update from Santee Cooper leadership on what’s gone on the last few months.
Santee Cooper said they’ve been implementing some of the ideas they laid out in their reform plan.
They are working on taking coal powered plants offline, have froze rates for most customers for the next four years. Santee Cooper Board of Directors Acting Director Dan Ray said, “We have rate locks in place, we have hedges in place. We’re comfortable to be operating in this environment.”
Members of the Ad-Hoc committee questioned Ray and others on a deal to refinance some of their debt. According to lawmakers, in the move Santee Cooper ended up borrowing another $100 million — adding to their debt total. Ray said they currently have about $6 billion in debt and a good chunk of that is tied to the failed VC Summer nuclear project.
Representative Kirkman Finlay (R-District 75) was very critical of the additional debt. “Had this been a rate refinance for the same amount of money. Nobody would have said a word. It’s the additional $100 million that is making everyone uncomfortable.
Ray and others said this was needed to help pay for improvements and keep their rates low for South Carolinians in the coming years. The Office of Regulatory Staff said Santee Cooper did not break the law by doing this. A measure passed by lawmakers earlier this year limited what contracts or deals Santee Cooper can do without approval from lawmakers.
Ray said, “I believe this staff acts in good faith and is trying to do the right thing. It’s a complicated enterprise.”
The committee did not take any action today but Rep. Finlay believes Santee Cooper’s future will be one the of the first topics the House takes up next year.
He said, “We’ll push it forward very quickly. I look forward to a vigorous floor debate and I’m looking forward to holding an agency accountable for the people of South Carolina.”