Santee Cooper is dropping two retirement plans that the state-owned utility has offered for years to its executives, part of an effort to cut costs following a multibillion-dollar nuclear fiasco and appease state lawmakers, livid the perks existed in the first place.
“Clearly, it’s a way to make sure we demonstrate we’re hearing what the folks in the Legislature are saying,” interim Santee Cooper Chief Executive Jim Brogdon told The State newspaper Thursday.
Later this month, the utility’s board is expected to vote to get rid of the two extra retirement plans, which offered some Santee Cooper executives benefits in addition to the normal retirement plan that is open to all state employees, Brogdon said.
Thirty-three Santee Cooper managers currently are enrolled in an extra pension-style plan. Nine employees are enrolled in an additional 401(k)-type plan.
Those plans pay benefits in addition to the normal state retirement plan’s payments.
Longtime Santee Cooper Chief Executive Lonnie Carter decided which employees were allowed to enroll in the two extra plans, which the utility said it offered to retain top executives.
Carter participated in the state retirement plan and the two extra plans, which he was added to by Santee Cooper’s board. After stepping down amid controversy last August, he receives a retirement package worth at least $800,000 per year.
Carter’s retirement came a month after Santee Cooper abandoned its decadelong joint effort with Cayce-based SCE&G to build two nuclear reactors in Fairfield County.
The failed project saddled Santee Cooper with $4 billion in debt, cost S.C. power customers at least $2 billion in higher bills and brought fresh scrutiny to the way the state-owned power company rewards its executives.
“The fact that they had three separate retirement plans for their executives, and the fact that the CEO chose the members of those plans, to me, was ridiculous,” said Senate Minority Leader Nikki Setzler, the Lexington Democrat who co-chaired the Senate committee that investigated the nuclear fiasco. “That is an abuse of the system.”
During a Senate hearing Thursday, Setzler told Brogdon he was pleased with the proposal to ditch the special retirement plans.
Santee Cooper’s board vote later this month would close the extra retirement plans to future executives but leave them in place for current employees and 32 retirees who already are enrolled.