Santee Cooper’s largest customer is open to the sale of the state-owned utility.
But the 20 electric cooperatives who buy their power from Santee Cooper first want a “meaningful, full-scale evaluation” showing how selling the Moncks Corner-based utility would affect them and their customers, said Mike Couick, chief executive of the Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina.
“There ought not be any sacred cows,” Couick said Monday at a meeting of the cooperatives and Santee Cooper board members.
Afterward, Couick told The State that the cooperatives want the S.C. General Assembly to begin seeking bids for Santee Cooper, a match-making role that Gov. Henry McMaster has been playing alone thus far.
The little-known cooperatives hold tremendous influence over the embattled utility’s sale because they have a contract to buy about 70 percent of Santee Cooper’s electricity through 2058.
The co-ops, which serve roughly 764,000 South Carolinians, have the option to void that contract if Santee Cooper is sold. However, any utility acquiring Santee Cooper would want to maintain that deal and could walk away if the co-ops say they will void the deal.
Gov. McMaster has been trying to negotiate the utility’s sale with large, out-of-state utilities since August. That was when Santee Cooper ignited a political firestorm by pulling the plug on a nine-year, $9 billion joint venture with Cayce-based SCANA to build two nuclear reactors at the V.C. Summer site in Fairfield County.
But any deal reached to sell the utility must be approved by the General Assembly and could fall through without the approval of the cooperatives.
Couick told Santee Cooper board members Monday that the cooperatives’ long-term contract with the state-owned utility likely is its most attractive asset to potential buyers. Those buyers have shown some interest in Santee Cooper’s power plants but little in the two unfinished nuclear reactors at the V.C. Summer site, Couick said.
“There is disagreement among 20 electric cooperatives about what ought to happen to Santee Cooper,” Couick told Santee Cooper leaders Monday. However, Couick said cooperative leaders do agree that credible offers should be considered seriously.
William Finn, the highest ranking Santee Cooper board member present, agreed. “I wouldn’t assume that anyone sitting here has a preconceived notion that Santee Cooper should never be sold.”
Four utilities are interested in buying Santee Cooper: Florida-based NextEra, Atlanta-based Southern Co., Charlotte-based Duke Energy and Richmond-based Dominion.
However, the cooperatives want to know how those utilities’ offers might affect the rates they — and their customers, in turn — are charged for Santee Cooper’s electricity. Some of the utilities might offer to freeze or lower Santee Cooper’s rates as part of a deal, Couick said.
“We don’t know the answer,” Couick said, adding Santee Cooper should be allowed to make the case as to why it should remain state owned before the General Assembly votes to sell the utility to another company. “I live in hope that there’s a good way out of this.”