Santee Cooper board chairman Leighton Lord resigned Friday, ending a three-week fight with Gov. Henry McMaster, who tried to push Lord out over the state-owned utility’s response to the V.C. Summer nuclear fiasco.
In a statement, McMaster called Lord’s resignation a “positive step forward.”
In his resignation letter to McMaster, Lord implied that he and the governor had resolved their differences over whether Santee Cooper – at Lord’s direction – withheld crucial information related to the state-owned power company’s role in the failed nuclear project.
In his statement, McMaster, who wants to sell Santee Cooper, was less flattering.
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Lord becomes the fifth executive casualty of the decade-long, $9 billion effort by Santee Cooper and Cayce-based SCE&G to build two nuclear reactors in Fairfield County.
The departures were demanded by incensed lawmakers and power customers – who have paid $2 billion in higher power rates for the reactors – after the project was abandoned in July.
Former Santee Cooper chief executive Lonnie Carter announced his retirement in August. SCANA chief executive Kevin Marsh and chief operating officer Stephen Byrne announced in October that they would retire on Dec. 31.
One of the state’s top utility regulators, veteran Office of Regulatory Staff director Dukes Scott, moved up his retirement to next month, citing the stress of navigating the state’s nuclear maelstrom.
Efforts to reach Lord Friday were unsuccessful.
In a Dec. 8 letter to Lord, McMaster accused the Columbia attorney of failing to cooperate with the governor’s office by “providing the information necessary to resolve this crisis.”
McMaster has said Santee Cooper resisted the release of a February 2016 report that diagnosed critical problems at the V.C. Summer nuclear site long before the project collapsed. He also accused the state agency of withholding earlier drafts of that report.
A week later, Lord sued to block McMaster’s effort to fire him, saying the governor’s charges were false. Before Friday, the case appeared headed toward a court hearing.
However, in resigning Friday, Lord thanked McMaster for giving him time to “better explain our process for producing documents and materials requested by your office.”
“I am confident everyone now understands that at no time did I, the Santee Cooper board or Santee Cooper staff withhold documents or information from your office,” Lord wrote.
McMaster’s statement Friday was less complimentary.
“These are critical months for our state’s economic and financial future. There are many decisions to be made by state officials, potential purchasers of Santee Cooper and SCANA, investors, stockholders, ratepayers and our people,” McMaster said. “Without full and immediate disclosure of all the facts, the integrity of the decisions to be made is frustrated and the people suffer.”
Lord is backing McMaster challenger Catherine Templeton, a Charleston attorney, in June’s GOP primary for governor.
Lord previously had said he would not resign unless the governor withdrew his accusations of stonewalling.
“With a very capable interim CEO in place, a very capable board and a cost-cutting budget approved, now is the time for me to end my service to Santee Cooper,” Lord wrote.