Selling Santee Cooper won’t be easy; lawmakers look at pros and cons of possible sale

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Discussions at the South Carolina State House continued Wednesday concerning the future of state-owned utility, Santee Cooper. 

The company invested in the V.C. Summer Nuclear Plant along with SCANA and faces huge debt because of it.

This was the third time the committee created to review and evaluate Santee Cooper met in less than a month. Members are tasked with weighing the pros and cons of selling the company 

Santee Cooper lost billions in a failed nuclear project. On Wednesday, representatives from the utility company explained that selling the company would NOT erase the $7.8 billion in debt.

Sentor Brad Hutto questioned Jeff Armfield with Santee Cooper about the possible sale.  “Let’s be clear there’s no magic bullet here that if you sell it the debt goes away.”

Defaulting on the debt could hurt the company’s power to invest, attract investors, or even the company’s operations. 

The meeting shifted gears after about 3 hours of reviewing Santee Cooper’s assets and financial situation.

Lawmakers then went on to review another utility provider in the state with direct ties to Santee Cooper, Central Electric Power Cooperative. 

CEPC gets more than 20% of its power from Santee Cooper and serves all 20 co-ops in the state, including 5 in South Carolina’s upstate.

Legal counsel for Santee Cooper went into detail about the agreement between the company and cooperative. The agreement has been in place for at least 30 years. 

“In 1980 the situation was such that Santee Cooper loaned money from Central Electric and was leasing property from them of course by 2013 that was no longer the case.”

The agreement also reflects the idea that CEPC would buy Santee Cooper in the event of a sale, an option that concerned a few committee members.

Representative G. Murrell Smith expressed his hesitation with that option. “I’m not here to blast Santee Cooper for past decisions but I am a little dumbfounded how we can turn around and start selling assets that are not owned, that are public property, that’s just not a good idea.”

Right now, lawmakers are looking at 3 solutions to Santee Cooper’s debt problem; sell the company, keep the company and have customers cover the debt, or sell equipment and generating stations to help pay off the debt.

The committee will meet in 2 weeks to hear from Central Electric, the fate of Santee Cooper could change how the co-op gets power. 
 

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