Santee Cooper’s Tone Deafness Continues With Exorbitant Executive Salaries

What are they thinking?

If South Carolina’s spectacularly mismanaged government-run utility Santee Cooper was hoping to send a message to lawmakers that it was serious about reform … mission not accomplished.

If anything, the scandal-scarred, debt-addled utility rubbed its ongoing contempt for ratepayers (and state taxpayers) in everyone’s faces this week.

The board of the embattled state-owned, government-run power provider announced on Tuesday that it was paying newly named chief executive officer Mark Bonsall a whopping $1.1 million a year – plus $250,000 in bonuses if certain unspecified goals are met.

Santee Cooper also approved an annual salary of up to $725,000 for Charlie Duckworth, who previously served as Bonsall’s deputy at his former job in Arizona.

Compounding this tone-deafness? Santee Cooper’s board approved Bonsall’s incentives – and Duckworth’s salary – behind closed doors.

Unbelievable … especially considering the people who get their power from Santee Cooper are still paying more than they can afford each month thanks to the utility’s negligence and dishonesty related to a recent multibillion dollar screw job.

Bonsall’s seven-figure pay day is more than double the annual salary received by former leader Lonnie Carter, who presided over the utility’s starring role in #NukeGate – South Carolina’s spectacularly failed government intervention in the nuclear power industry.

Carter was paid more than $540,000 a year prior to resigning in the aftermath of this fiasco two years ago. Upon resigning, he received a multimillion dollar golden parachute. Furthermore, Santee Cooper is continuing to pay his legal bills in association with an ongoing criminal investigation of the command economic debacle.

Again … how is any of this synonymous with reform?

It isn’t …


How did we get here? Well, to start with state lawmakers refused to sell Santee Cooper over a decade ago when we first proposed doing so – when such a sale would have netted taxpayers billions of dollars. Instead, they embarked on #NukeGate, a catastrophically mismanaged bid to build a pair of next generation nuclear reactors using billions of dollars in government debt – while simultaneously socializing the investment risk of Santee Cooper’s private partner in the reactor project, SCANA.

Now the command economists who landed the state in this mess have taken it upon themselves to “fix it.”

As we noted last week, there are three general “solutions” to the Santee Cooper problem. First, the utility could be sold to a private sector provider (albeit at a fraction of what it would have netted taxpayers years ago). Second, a private sector provider could manage it (a solution we have reluctantly acknowledged might be the best move at the moment). Third, Santee Cooper could be allowed to continue to operate as a state-owned, state-run entity.

This news outlet argued in our most recent coverage that “the third option should be taken totally off the table.”

Exorbitant executive salaries like this are among the reasons why … but the real reason is that government has no business owning or operating a power company.

Which becomes clearer with each passing day …

Santee Cooper claims it is committed to undertaking what reporter Avery Wilks of The (Columbia, S.C.) State newspaper has described as “top-to-bottom reform.” The utility has also embarked on an aggressive public relations/ image rehabilitation campaign over the last few months – pointedly challenging its critics and seeking to cultivate additional legislative and media support as a vote on its possible sale draws nigh.

Our guess is these tone-deaf salaries – and the secretive manner in which they were approved – will not lend much credibility to its promises of “reform.”

There is simply no purpose to “reforming” Santee Cooper. It either needs to be sold outright or managed with the expressed intention of selling it for a better price at a later date.

Anything short of that is perpetuating command economic failure … not to mention punitively high energy bills for customers who can least afford to pay them.



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