The two most powerful members of the S.C. Legislature pressed Gov. Henry McMaster for an independent valuation of Santee Cooper, saying Wednesday they need that information before they are asked to approve the sale of the state-owned utility.
Regardless, the General Assembly will hire its own outside expert to assess the value of the Moncks Corner-based utility’s assets, S.C. House Speaker Jay Lucas and Senate President Pro Tempore Hugh Leatherman wrote.
“The people of South Carolina are the shareholders of Santee Cooper and have, collectively, been investing in the public utility for over 70 years,” wrote Lucas, R-Darlington, and Leatherman, R-Florence. “In order to approve its sale, the General Assembly and our state’s citizens must know the true value of Santee Cooper. We cannot allow this investment to be sold at a fire sale price if we firmly believe that is not in South Carolina’s best interest.”
The letter came amidst growing tensions among elected officials over McMaster’s efforts to sell Santee Cooper to one of four unidentified Fortune 500 power companies, largely thought to include Duke Energy, Dominion Energy and the Southern Co.
Legislators have expressed skepticism about selling the utility, which supplies power to two of every five S.C. residents and employs 1,750. They also have complained at being out of the loop during the governor’s negotiations.
McMaster replied that he agreed with the legislative leaders. In response to those concerns, he invited a group of S.C. senators Wednesday to his office, where he briefed them for roughly an hour on his efforts.
“I feel a little better,” said Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey, R-Edgefield. “Any time you can sit down and have a conversation, that’s going to ease some of the tension.”
State Sen. Mike Fanning, D-Fairfield, said he learned in the meeting that most of the companies were willing to guarantee in writing that Santee Cooper’s rates would not be raised for a “considerable’’ amount of time. In fact, some rates might be lowered, Fanning said he was told.
“I’m stoked right now,’’ Fanning said. “I don’t know that I have felt this positive in a really long time.’’
McMaster said he is seeking an outside valuation and would share any information with legislators. “I look forward to working together to solve this critical issue,” he wrote Lucas and Leatherman.
McMaster has recruited out-of-state utilities to buy some or all of the utility since August, just days after Santee Cooper and Cayce-based SCANA pulled the plug on a nine-year, $9 billion effort to build two nuclear reactors in Fairfield County.