More than a year after construction of two nuclear reactors was abandoned, many S.C. residents still are unfamiliar with the project that could end up costing them billions.
In a statewide poll of electric ratepayers, 40 percent of those surveyed said they were not familiar with the collapse of the V.C. Summer expansion project in Fairfield County.
The joint project by the state-owned Santee Cooper utility and SCE&G, a subsidiary of Cayce-based SCANA, collapsed in July 2017, leaving power customers holding the bag for some $9 billion spent on the now-abandoned project.
The project’s failure has roiled both companies, sparked investigations and prompted action from the Legislature.
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But the controversy has passed many South Carolinians by.
Slightly less than half of the S.C. residents surveyed, 48 percent, reported being familiar with the project’s collapse. Another 12 percent weren’t sure.
Part of the reason could be that not all S.C. residents get their electricity from SCE&G or Santee Cooper.
Duke Energy’s S.C. customers made up 25 percent of those surveyed, while 29 percent get their power from SCE&G and 12 percent from Santee Cooper. Another 21 percent are members of electric co-ops — that get their power indirectly from Santee Cooper — and another 13 percent get their energy from some other source or were unsure.
Only 46 percent of Santee Cooper and electric co-op customers reported being familiar with the V.C. Summer debacle.
The poll by Clout Research was conducted for the S.C. Club for Growth, a conservative free-markets advocacy group, to gauge public opinion on the potential sale of state-owned Santee Cooper. But among S.C. residents who are not Santee Cooper customers, 50 percent told pollsters they were unfamiliar with the state-backed utility.
What do Santee Cooper customers want out of a sale
S.C. Club for Growth favors selling Santee Cooper, arguing that would give the utility’s customers and co-op members the best shot at getting out from under the utility’s nuclear debt.
Dennis Burt, an S.C. Club for Growth board member, argued the poll shows “South Carolinians have been left in the dark regarding the mountain of debt they are on the hook to pay off.”
“Santee Cooper or its successor should be subject to the same market forces, oversight, and reforms that other energy companies face,” Burt said. “The days of Santee Cooper insiders enriching themselves and their friends on the backs of ratepayers need to end.”
Santee Cooper’s debt is a concern to its customers.
Seventy-two percent of those surveyed said they were “more likely” to support Santee Cooper’s sale if that would “prevent the debt from being passed on to customers, meaning customers would have lower power bills.”
But state Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Berkeley, is unsure if selling Santee Cooper to a private, for-profit company would lower customers’ bills.
“I can’t imagine anyone would say they are against lower rates,” Grooms said. “It’s like asking: ‘Do you want a big bucket of money or none?’ ”
Another 72 percent of those surveyed said they would support Santee Cooper’s sale if “public lands and waterways, including Lake Marion and Lake Moultrie, would be preserved and protected.” But it’s unclear whether a private buyer or the public would be responsible for maintaining the lakes.
“If you ask: ‘Should taxpayers pay for that?,’ the answer would probably be, ‘No,’ ” Grooms said.
Grooms is part of a legislative committee studying the possible sale of Santee Cooper. But, he said, any decision on whether to sell the state-owned utility will come down to what works best for its ratepayers. “The data should drive the decision, not political ideology.”
The poll was conducted from Sept. 26 to Oct. 1, reaching 804 people by land line and cellphone. It had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.