Santee Cooper Bid Process: Guiding Principles

Governor, legislature need to get it right this time …

In the coming days, South Carolina governor Henry McMaster’s administration will unveil its preferred vendors for managing the bid process related to Santee Cooper – the Palmetto State’s debt-addled, atrociously managed, scandal-scarred government-run power provider.

McMaster is responsible for submitting two Santee Cooper-related proposals to the S.C. General Assembly – one involving the outright sale of the asset and another involving its management by a private sector provider (with the state retaining ownership).

Those proposals are due to lawmakers no later than March 15, 2020.

Meanwhile, a third proposal to “reform” the utility – and keep it under government control – will be submitted to the legislature by Santee Cooper’s new high-priced management team.

Lawmakers will be required to vote either “aye” or “nay” on these three proposals no later than April 15, 2020. They can only pick one plan … or they can do nothing and the status quo will hold.

Last month, the S.C. Department of Administration (SCDOA) – which is part of McMaster’s cabinet – began soliciting bids to manage this process. SCDOA is seeking one entity for “resource planning and procurement, management prudence, finance, revenue requirements, rate design, operational efficiency, utility infrastructure, and market power.” It is seeking another for “corporate acquisition, finance, governance, tax-exempt finance, competitive bidding and contracting, employee policies (including pensions and other benefits), and business management.”

(Click to view)

(Via: S.C. Governor)

This news outlet doesn’t really care which firms McMaster (above) chooses when these two contracts are awarded. After all, this is basically a reboot of what lawmakers have already done.

That’s right: Bids for the sale, partial sale and/ or management of Santee Cooper have already been submitted – but lawmakers refused to release the specifics of those proposals earlier this year. Then they fought over how to evaluate them before ultimately punting the issue to the governor.

Typical, huh? Of course we should have expected as much coming from the politicians who landed the state in this mess in the first place.

How did we get here? For those of you waking up from a two-year nap, Santee Cooper and crony capitalist utility SCANA were partners in #NukeGate – a government-subsidized project that was supposed to build two next generation nuclear reactors in Jenkinsville, S.C. These two reactors were supposed to have been operational in 2016 and 2017, respectively, at a cost of $9.8 billion.

That didn’t happen ,,,

(Click to view)

(Via: High Flyer)

The money was spent, but the project was never finished – and the two utilities couldn’t afford the estimated $10-16 billion price tag necessary to complete it. On July 31, 2017 Santee Cooper pulled the plug on the boondoggle. Shortly thereafter, it was revealed executives at the utilities knew the project was doomed for years and didn’t warn the public.

As a result taxpayers are now out billions – including government debt and private investment risk that was essentially socialized by their “leaders” via the now-notorious 2007 “Base Load Review Act.”

#NukeGate remains under criminal investigation …

Against this backdrop, SCANA was sold last December to Virginia-based Dominion Energy – which has also submitted a proposed management agreement for Santee Cooper.

Meanwhile multiple companies have reportedly submitted bids to purchase the utility, including Florida-based NextEra Energy, Charlotte, N.C.-based Duke Energy, Greenville, S.C.-based Pacolet Milliken and New York-based LS Power.

This news outlet has warmed to the notion of a management agreement, although our preference has always been for the utility to be sold. In fact, that has been our preference for nearly a dozen years. We are concerned, however, that the totally secretiveanti-transparentinsider-driven process currently being undertaken will not yield anything resembling a fair outcome … especially seeing as McMaster is indebted to some of the well-heeled interests participating in these negotiations.

Accordingly, we believe it is necessary to articulate a few “guiding principles” that we believe ought to be at the forefront of deliberation as this process moves forward.

Those principles are as follows …

(Click to view)

(Via: Santee Cooper)

TRANSPARENCY … Santee Cooper is a government-owned entity. A government agency is soliciting bids for its disposition. And government officials will ultimately select and vote on the winning solicitations. In other words, every bit of this process involves the government – and as such should be conducted in public. Unfortunately, state leaders seem intent on keeping it behind closed doors, which we have previously described as an “open invitation to corruption.”

MERITS MUST PREVAIL … At the end of the day, numbers do not lie. Dollar amounts are going to be what they are going to be, and McMaster’s administration has an obligation to choose the deals that offer Santee Cooper ratepayers and South Carolina taxpayers maximum value. In other words, McMaster has to get this right – which means letting the merits of each proposal, not politics, hold sway over his administration’s decisions.

NO POLITICAL INTERFERENCE … For the last two years, state lawmakers (and McMaster) have been conducting secret, offline negotiations with potential suitors for Santee Cooper. This must stop. After all, political interference is the reason South Carolina is in this $10 billion hole to begin with. Unfortunately, McMaster and his chief of staff – Trey Walker – are deeply conflicted related to this issue, meaning as the bid process moves forward they will need to step back and let the number-crunchers sort through the proposals without injecting their political influence.

Do we have faith these guiding principles will carry the day? No … but we will continue to advocate for them regardless.

This decision is simply too important not to get right …



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