Politics & Government

Senate creates new committee to study future of Santee Cooper after nuclear debacle

Sen. Harvey Peeler R-Cherokee says he is against removing the flag during the South Carolina senate’s debate on a bill that calls for the removal of the Confederate flag from the State House grounds. 7/6/15
Sen. Harvey Peeler R-Cherokee says he is against removing the flag during the South Carolina senate’s debate on a bill that calls for the removal of the Confederate flag from the State House grounds. 7/6/15 tdominick@thestate.com

The S.C. Senate is creating a new committee to study what the state should do with Santee Cooper after the state-owned power company that racked up $4 billion in debt on an unfinished nuclear power plant.

The new Senate “Select Committee” will work separately from the legislative committee studying whether to sell Santee Cooper. That committee has been in limbo for the past two weeks, after Senate President Harvey Peeler, R-Cherokee, pumped the brakes on rehiring a consultant to continue studying offers the state has received for the 84-year-old utility.

Peeler told The State he created the new committee Thursday to focus on other options, in addition to a possible sale. That includes offers for outside firms to come in and manage the Moncks Corner-based utility, long-term power agreements or structural reforms at the agency.

“All options are on the table,” Peeler said of the committee’s mission. “They know the urgency, but they also know that haste makes waste. They’re committed to doing the right thing for the ratepayer and the taxpayer.”

At stake are the future power bills of the 2 million South Carolinians who depend on Santee Cooper’s electricity.

Currently, Santee Cooper’s direct-serve customers are on the hook to pay roughly $6,200 more per household in higher rates for the unfinished reactors over the next four decades. Customers of the 20 electric cooperatives who buy power from Santee Cooper contractually are obligated to pay about $4,200 per household.

Also at stake are the jobs of Santee Cooper’s 1,625 employees.

The committee will be co-chaired by Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey, R-Edgefield, and Senate Minority Leader Nikki Setzler, D-Lexington. The pair previously led the Senate committee that investigated the failed V.C. Summer nuclear project. They also led efforts in the Senate to slash SCE&G’s nuclear-bloated electric rates last year.

Also on the committee are Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Luke Rankin, R-Horry; Senate Transportation Committee chairman Larry Grooms, R-Berkeley; Sen. Paul Campbell, R-Charleston; Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort; Sen. Ronnie Sabb, D-Williamsburg; Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg; and Sen. Margie Bright Matthews, D-Colleton.

Massey said the committee will be key to overcoming inertia in the Senate over whether to make changes at Santee Cooper. The Senate has long been skeptical of selling Santee Cooper, citing concerns for its employees and worries a for-profit utility would only raise electric rates in the future.

“Whatever you do, it’s going to take a lot more effort in the Senate to accomplish it,” Massey said.

Avery G. Wilks is The State’s senior S.C. State House and politics reporter. He was named the 2018 S.C. Journalist of the Year by the South Carolina Press Association. He grew up in Chester, S.C., and graduated from the University of South Carolina’s top-ranked Honors College in 2015.


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