Board members of catastrophically mismanaged state-owned utility Santee Cooper blew off a legislative hearing into South Carolina’s #NukeGate debacle on Tuesday – enraging state lawmakers and prompting calls for their heads.
The board members’ overt diss was the latest drama associated with the Palmetto State’s spectacularly failed government intervention in the energy industry – which led to the abandonment of a multi-billion dollar nuclear power plant project in Fairfield County, S.C.
This botched project is the equivalent of a $10 billion hole in the ground … one that state leaders seem unable to give away. Meanwhile the ongoing debacle – for which no one seems willing to step up and accept responsibility – has rightfully infuriated South Carolina energy consumers, many of whom were forced to pay higher power bills for years on end to subsidize the failed project.
Who is responsible for the mess? We recommend starting with the politicians holding the hearings …
After all, they paved the way for this disaster by passing a constitutionally dubious law back in 2007 that enabled the utilities to socialize their investment risk (which of course they did, at a considerable profit to themselves).
To be clear: This website has made it abundantly clear that the legislative panels investigating this scandal – especially the panel convened by the S.C. Senate – are jokes. In fact we’ve previously exposed how the Senate panel is nothing but an elaborate attempt by members of that chamber to whitewash their culpability for this mushrooming scandal.
Nonetheless, for Santee Cooper’s leaders to refuse to provide public testimony is troubling – especially seeing as embattled S.C. governor Henry McMaster is desperately trying to find a buyer for this debt-laden utility.
What (else) do they have to hide, we wonder?
The one Santee Cooper official who did bother to show up – $16 million golden parachute recipient Lonnie Carter – basically blamed the whole mess on publicly traded power company SCANA, which partnered with the government on the failed project.
According to Carter, SCANA essentially bullied the state-owned utility into pursuing the deal because they were afraid of their shareholders. Santee Cooper tried to be a team player, Carter said, until they were backed into a corner owing to mounting pressure from their network of electric cooperatives.
Do we buy that theory? No … not for a second.
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To recap: Santee Cooper and SCANA spent the past decade collaborating on a massive expansion of the V.C. Summer nuclear power station in Jenkinsville, S.C. This project was supposed to have produced a pair of next-generation AP1000 pressurized water reactors at a cost of $9.8 billion. The money was spent, but the reactors were never finished. Or even half-finished. Not only that, estimates indicate they could cost another $9-16 billion to complete.
Unable to pony up its share of that amount, Santee Cooper pulled the plug on the deal on July 31 … killing an estimated 5,600 jobs, squandering billions of dollars in investment (including more than $2 billion raised through rate increases on consumers), throwing the state’s energy future into chaos and costing the government utility its credit rating.
Documents released last month revealed Santee Cooper and SCANA executives knew over a year-and-a-half ago this project was doomed – yet continued to raise rates on consumers anyway. Not surprisingly, the project’s failure has spawned numerous lawsuits and a pair of criminal investigations – one state, one federal.
It has also created potentially career-ending political headaches for lawmakers who approved the projects … as well as for former governor Mark Sanford, who allowed the now-notorious “Base Load Review Act” to become law without his signature.
We say fiat justitia ruat caelum (“let justice be done though the heavens fall”), including indictments for those who deserve them. Of course we’re reliably informed that reports of looming scarlet letters for those involved in the scandal are premature.
According to our sources, both the state and federal probes are just now beginning to ramp up …
WANNA SOUND OFF?
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