Three Fortune 200 energy companies have lined up to buy some or all of the state-owned Santee Cooper utility, according to two sources familiar with the negotiations.
Those utilities were among four entities that submitted formal letters of interest to Gov. Henry McMaster before a Sunday deadline, the sources said.
McMaster’s office has courted suitors to buy Santee Cooper since August, just after the Moncks Corner-based utility and Cayce-based SCANA, a shareholder-owned utility, pulled the plug on a $9 billion nuclear expansion project in Fairfield County.
The Richland Republican wants to negotiate a deal that either would ensure the twin-reactor project is completed or return some of the hundreds of millions that S.C. power customers already have spent on it.
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Asked to identify the companies interested in buying Santee Cooper and for other details of the negotiations, the governor’s office said: “To preserve the integrity of the process, any details of ongoing conversations will remain confidential at this time.”
Spokesman Brian Symmes added, “The governor is continuing to work with companies interested in purchasing some or all of Santee Cooper, and he remains solely focused on what is best for ratepayers and South Carolina taxpayers.”
Santee Cooper spokeswoman Mollie Gore said the utility had no information on any potential buyers. She added “any objective analysis” will show state ownership of the utility is in the best interest of South Carolinians.
“Santee Cooper will continue to provide information to the governor and any other interested parties on this matter,” Gore said. “Selling Santee Cooper has been considered many times over the years, and we believe that any objective analysis will again show Santee Cooper’s value to the state as a public power utility.”
Some legislators question the wisdom of selling Santee Cooper.
They note, for instance, that economic developers regularly use the state’s ownership of Santee Cooper to offer cut-rate electricity to companies considering moving to the state. The utility’s sale also likely would result in higher rates for the 1 million South Carolinians who get their electricity from Santee Cooper or the electric co-ops that it serves.
Others question whether another utility would be willing to assume Santee Coopers’ multi-billion-dollar debts, including those associated with the failed V.C. Summer expansion project.
McMaster’s Oct. 1 deadline to submit letters of interest in Santee Cooper did not require formal offers to buy the utility. But the deadline appears to have knocked out a few companies with only casual interest.
McMaster initially reached out to Charlotte-based Duke Energy, the Atlanta-based Southern Co. and Richmond-based Dominion Energy to gauge their interest in Santee Cooper.
Spokespeople for those three utilities refused to comment when asked Monday if their companies had sent a letter of formal interest in acquiring Santee Cooper.
In August, The State reported McMaster was in talks with five Fortune 500 companies.
Among the Santee Cooper assets the companies could be interested in are:
▪ The right to sell electricity to 177,000 retail customers that Santee Cooper serves directly, mostly along the S.C. coast
▪ The utility’s long-term contract to sell electricity to 20 S.C. electric cooperatives with more than 764,000 customers. That deal ends in 2058.
▪ Santee Cooper’s transmission system, which transports electricity from the utility’s power generation plants to its substations
Any deal must be approved by the S.C. Legislature, which has convened two special committees to investigate the nuclear fiasco.