This news outlet has probably written a thousand articles on #NukeGate – the spectacular implosion of a government-initiated nuclear power project in Jenkinsville, South Carolina.
This multi-billion dollar boondoggle – subsidized with taxpayer debt and ratepayer money – was supposed to have produced a pair of next-generation nuclear reactors at the V.C. Summer nuclear generating station in 2016 and 2017, respectively.
Midway through 2017, though, the reactors were discontinued – and then abandoned, costing thousands of jobs and throwing the state’s energy future into chaos. Sadly, this abandonment occurred after project drained the state (and its ratepayers) of nearly $10 billion … and counting.
Sound criminal? Yes …
In the aftermath of this debacle, the private sector corporation involved in the project (SCANA) was sold off – while the status of its state-owned “partner” (Santee Cooper) remains in limbo. State lawmakers – whose crony capitalist policies ushered in this disaster – have been making noise about selling Santee Cooper, but at this point the utility would only command a fraction of what it was once worth.
Had they sold it over a decade ago when we recommended it, such a move would have netted the state billions.
Meanwhile there is palpable buzz that the bidding process for Santee Cooper – which is being conducted in secret – is rigged.
One of the shadowy figures who has been at the epicenter of every single #NukeGate detonation? Mike Couick, the exceedingly well-compensated leader of the Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina (ECSC).
Couick’s group represents Santee Cooper’s biggest customer – a corrupt network of around twenty regional electric cooperatives that collectively charge excessively high utility rates on low-income South Carolinians.
You know, the very people who can least afford to pay them.
The cooperatives – glorified middle men – have Santee Cooper in a vice, though. Specifically, they hold a 40-year agreement with the utility (one that runs through 2058) that would be null and void if Santee Cooper were sold. This agreement pays for 60 percent of the power Santee Cooper currently produces on an annual basis.
Without that deal, this already toxic asset becomes worthless …
Not surprisingly, the cooperatives have been negotiating feverishly behind closed-doors amid #NukeGate’s fallout – admitting last September that they were holding “confidential discussions” with some of the entities interested in buying Santee Cooper.
“We know of plans out there that would take care of all contingencies,” one of the cooperatives’ attorney told state lawmakers last fall. Of course the attorney declined to provide reporter Bristow Marchant of The (Columbia, S.C.) State newspaper with any details as to who he spoke with – or what was said.
Also, in February the ECSC submitted its own proposal for acquiring (or running) the utility – but none of those details have been made public, either.
Obviously, the office of S.C. governor Henry McMaster has been at the heart of these closed door negotiations from the very beginning. As has Couick. As have many of the state lawmakers whose ineptitude landed South Carolina in this mess in the first place (more on that in a moment).
Clearly, there are all sorts of sub rosa connections at play here … in addition to the boatloads of campaign cash McMaster received from the cooperatives during his competitive reelection bid last year. Beyond these glaring conflicts, Couick and McMaster’s chief of staff Trey Walker – essentially the acting governor of South Carolina – have a longstanding symbiotic political relationship dating back decades.
Given Couick and the cooperatives’ participation in these discussions – it is fair to ask a simple question: What did Couick know about the demise of V.C. Summer? And when did he know it?
Also, what sort of privileged access is he getting to the governor, who could wind up playing a pivotal role in these discussions?
Documents released in September 2017 showed executives at both SCANA and Santee Cooper were aware in 2016 (and perhaps earlier) that the project was doomed. Still, they continued to raise rates on customers anyway – right up to the bitter end.
One of our sources who has closely followed crony capitalist misadventures in the Palmetto State for many years told us Couick knew about the looming disaster – but failed to report it.
“Mike Couick knew about the secret report regarding problems related to (the) V.C. Summer nuclear plant before it was released to the public,” this source said. “But he apparently failed to reveal that information to the coops who got screwed … along with everyone else. If he had had his client’s best interests in mind rather than his own, this fiasco could have been shut down years ago and we wouldn’t be having this fight over how much the ratepayers will recoup and how long it will take them to recoup.”
The source added it was “a mystery” why Couick (below) had not faced “disciplinary action from the bar.”
(Click to view)
Not everyone close to the #NukeGate implosion agreed with that assessment, though.
“I can tell you there was great frustration (at) not knowing what was in that report,” a source familiar with Couick’s role in those discussions told us. “The people at SCANA and (Santee Cooper) wouldn’t lift a finger to help Couick.”
“If I thought he had specific, special knowledge of (the report), I would not hesitate to say so,” the source added. “It’s just not the case … they used the same proprietary argument with (the cooperatives), claiming it was too sensitive to release.”
Of one thing there can be no doubt, though … Couick was instrumental in advancing the special interest legislation that allowed SCANA to socialize nearly $2 billion of its investment risk related to this botched project, the notorious “Base Load Review Act.”
“I’m telling you, that legislation never sees the light of day without him working it,” our source confirmed.
Yet once again, South Carolina’s leaders are rewarding failure.
Couick – one of the primary architects of this spectacular, multi-billion dollar disaster – now has a seat at the table in negotiating its “solution.” And as we noted previously, these negotiations are being conducted behind closed doors.
What could possibly go wrong, right?
We have nothing against Couick – who is being paid more than half a million per year (at least) to be South Carolina’s most influential middleman. But given his proximity to the legislation that spawned this command economic disaster – and his proximity to the politicians currently negotiating the sale of Santee Cooper – we believe the public needs to take a much closer look at his intimate involvement in these proceedings.
That includes what he knew of the impending collapse of #NukeGate – and when he knew it.
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