Politics & Government

The State spent weeks looking into SC’s electric co-ops. Here’s what we learned

Tri-County Electric’s St. Matthews headquarters.
Tri-County Electric’s St. Matthews headquarters. awilks@thestate.com

Over the past month, The State newspaper has looked into South Carolina’s little-known electric cooperatives, a largely unregulated segment of the Palmetto State’s power industry that provides power to 1.5 million South Carolinians.

Here are a few of our major findings:

Tri-County Electric has been the subject of recent controversy. However, the Midlands co-op is not the first S.C. co-op to be engulfed in a scandal over high board pay and benefits. A decade ago, many of the same issues arose at another S.C. co-op, Santee Electric.

S.C.’s 20 co-ops have paid their board members nearly twice the national average, in part because virtually all of them have paid health insurance benefits for current and former directors and their families. That practice has been questioned by a prominent co-op attorney and an ethics task force.

Each co-op also spent about $120,000, on average, to send their directors to educational conferences across the country last year. Co-op directors attended from six to 14 conferences in locales ranging from Nashville to San Diego to Washington, D.C.

In many cases, co-op boards have given themselves co-op funded retirement plans that have paid out lump sums worth more than $81,000 to sitting board members.

Co-op directors are able to remain in power for decades in part because they largely are shielded from public scrutiny. At 17 co-ops, directors pick the members of nominating committees that screen candidates for board positions, effectively giving directors control over any potential challengers. Last year, one co-op’s nine-member nominating committee included six direct relatives of sitting board members.

To read the full story, click here.

Reach Wilks at 803-771-8362. Follow him on Twitter @AveryGWilks.