Duke Energy: Back To Scorched Earth In South Carolina?

The threats are back … and appear to be paying dividends.

The new boss/ old boss theme certainly seems to be catching hold in South Carolina this month. In political and corporate circles, the more things change … right?

Indeed …

The latest example?

Charlotte, North Carolina-based Duke Energy recently “switched gears” in the Palmetto State and named Michael Callahan – its vice president of investor relations – to head up the company’s South Carolina operations.

A close confidante of Duke chief executive officer Lynn Good, Callahan inherits an unmitigated dumpster fire in South Carolina.

Duke is reeling after its efforts to push through a massive rate hike were slapped down by regulators with the S.C. Public Service Commission (SCPSC). The “tone deaf” company eventually swallowed a much smaller rate hike, but not after threatening to sue regulators and making thinly veiled threats related to its various capital investments in South Carolina.

The clear message? Give us what we want or we will no longer invest in your state …

Not surprisingly, Duke’s hardline tactics did not go over well with members of the S.C. General Assembly – who are exerting expanded influence over regulators in the aftermath of the state’s botched intervention in the nuclear power industry (a.k.a. #NukeGate). Not only that, lawmakers are in the process of determining the disposition of government-run utility Santee Cooper – one of the two companies caught up in this command economic disaster – and Duke is among the companies aggressively pursuing the state-owned power provider.

(Click to view)

(Via: Duke Energy)

In other words, Duke picked a truly terrible time to try and squeeze more money out of beleaguered ratepayers. And an even worse time to complain when they got rebuked.

We were surprised, therefore, to hear reports that Duke is allegedly reverting to its previous hardline tactics – including making specific threats against economic development efforts in the Palmetto State, according to our sources.

Duke executives met recently with officials at the S.C. Department of Commerce (SCDOC) to bemoan the treatment they have been receiving in South Carolina, we are told – and to reiterate in much plainer language CEO Good’s previous statements about how her company intends to “closely evaluate further investment in the state.”

Words were not parsed at this meeting

Duke executives specifically threatened “not (to) help with economic development” in South Carolina any longer, one source familiar with the confab told us. Like, at all. Another source confirmed that “specific threats were made” related to SCDOC’s ongoing (and dare we say unsuccessful) crony capitalist job creation efforts.

Did the hard line work?

Yes, apparently …

(Click to view)

(Via: Travis Bell Photography)

Not long after this no-holds-barred meeting, SCDOC secretary Bobby Hitt (above) – who was badly exposed during the Palmetto State’s most recent crony capitalist misadventure – demanded an audience with state regulators.

In a letter dated August 22, 2019, Hitt wrote to the chief clerk and administrator of the SCPSC, Joceyln Boyd, to provide her with his “notice of request for allowable ex parte briefing.”

Hitt’s notice sought attendance by all seven members of the commission – as well as the agency’s staff – at a briefing scheduled for September 19, 2019 at 10:00 a.m. EDT.

The subject of this briefing? According to Hitt’s summons, he plans to provide commissioners with an overview of “current economic development activity” with a particular emphasis on the “role energy plays in recruiting and growing business.”

How convenient, right?

Take a look …

(Via: S.C. Public Service Commission)

For those of you not adept at reading between the lines, this certainly looks to be the definition of stooge behavior. Obsequious toadying. Special interest whoring at its worst. And not only that, it would be coming from someone whose numbers can no longer be trusted.

Hitt appears to be doing Duke’s bidding … conveying its threats to commissioners under a veneer of officialdom.

“He’s going way out there for that company,” a source familiar with the situation told us.

Indeed. Which begs the question whether Duke is one of the preferred prospects for Hitt’s boss, governor Henry McMaster. Remember, McMaster’s administration is responsible for submitting two Santee Cooper proposals (one sale and one management agreement) which lawmakers will vote on next spring – an opaque process this news outlet has criticized as an “open invitation to corruption.”

One of Hitt’s backers disputed the notion he was shilling for Duke, though, saying the secretary was simply doing his job and “conveying legitimate grievances to commissioners.”

“Actions have reactions,” this source told us. “(Commissioners) should be aware of those reactions and the secretary is advising them accordingly.”

The source encouraged us to hear Hitt out before “jumping to conclusions about the timing of his remarks.”

What do you think? Vote in our poll and post your thoughts in our always-lively comments section below …


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