Gov. Henry McMaster suspects Santee Cooper is trying to covertly persuade lawmakers not to sell the state-owned utility after its $4 billion nuclear fiasco.
The Richland Republican demanded Tuesday the Moncks Corner-based utility cough up all of its contracts and emails with its lobbyists, as well as any official emails or texts sent by those lobbyists, over the past 14 months.
Santee Cooper’s acting board chairman has told McMaster that the utility’s employees have been instructed not to interfere with the governor’s push to sell Santee Cooper. That push began last fall after the utility, saddled with $4 billion in debt from the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station expansion project, walked away from that the failed Fairfield County project.
The request follows months of tensions between Santee Cooper and the governor’s office.
Last fall, McMaster forced the utility to turn over a long-secret, February 2016 report that showed Santee Cooper and investor-owned SCE&G were aware of critical problems hampering the Fairfield County project.
In December, former Santee Cooper board chairman Leighton Lord resigned after McMaster accused him of withholding crucial information and threatened to fire him.
McMaster’s last demand follows a Feb. 21 letter to the governor from acting Santee Cooper board chairman Bill Finn, noting the governor had “expressed a concern that the presence of contract lobbyists as part of the Santee Cooper legislative relations team sends a message that we are working to defeat your proposals on the future of Santee Cooper.”
Finn wrote Santee Cooper has reiterated to its lobbyists that they are there to answer lawmakers’ questions, not undermine McMaster’s efforts. “It is not within their authority nor appropriate to oppose your efforts and initiatives. The board intends to see that these restrictions are followed.”
Santee Cooper is paying four State House lobbyists – Dwight Drake, Fred Allen, Geoffrey Penland and Jennifer Robinson – according to its latest ethics filing.
“We’ve specifically advised them not to advocate for or against the sale of Santee Cooper,” Santee Cooper spokeswoman Mollie Gore said. “They are there to follow all legislation that could impact Santee Cooper customers, and to provide information in response to the many questions coming from legislators and staff on legislation being considered.”
Santee Cooper said Tuesday it is pulling information together to answer McMaster’s demand.
McMaster has said selling Santee Cooper is the only way to make sure its customers, including the state’s 20 electric cooperatives, aren’t forced to pay off its $4 billion in nuclear debt.
A handful of companies are interested in buying Santee Cooper.
No official offer has been made to S.C. lawmakers, who must approve any sale deal. However, Florida-based NextEra Energy is considering a $15.9 billion proposal to buy the state-owned utility.