South Carolina’s embattled government-run utility Santee Cooper voted this week to put the brakes on a controversial agreement with a private sector provider.
The vote to scrap a planned partnership with Atlanta, Georgia-based Southern Company came less than a week after the utility’s high-priced new executive team bluntly rebuked the administration of governor Henry McMaster – and powerful state senator Hugh Leatherman – for raising objections to the proposed arrangement.
As he almost always does, though, Leatherman got the last laugh …
At a hastily called board meeting on Monday, Santee Cooper’s board voted to “table the discussion” on the Santee-Southern negotiations, although it later reworded its action to say it was merely “modify(ing) the agenda to remove (the discussion)” from the list of items it was considering.
Furthermore, the curiously worded vote was taken before a quorum call of the board … raising questions as to its legitimacy/ enforceability.
Sound sketchy? Indeed … especially given this bureaucracy’s history of costly, potentially illegal dishonesty.
Assuming the backdoor dealmaking between Santee and Southern has really been kiboshed, though, a key question remains: Will the debt-addled toxic asset be allowed to continue violating state law in promoting its so-called “reform” plans?
As of this writing, Santee Cooper has not joined a list of private sector providers in signing non-disclosure agreements with the state.
Those required agreements were contained in a law passed by the S.C. General Assembly earlier this year intended to govern the process by which lawmakers ultimately choose whether to sell Santee Cooper (our preference), let a private sector company manage it or allow the utility to try and reform itself.
McMaster’s Department of Administration (SCDOA) – which has been tasked with submitting one sale proposal and one management agreement to lawmakers for their consideration no later than March 15, 2020 – has reportedly been “all over” Santee Cooper in the hopes of getting the utility’s executives to sign the non-disclosure agreement.
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(Via: S.C. Governor)
So far … no luck.
To be clear: Our news outlet did not support the legislation governing this process, arguing it set the stage for all sorts of secretive negotiations regarding the disposition of a public asset.
“Santee Cooper is a government-owned entity,” we wrote earlier this summer. “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.“
We believe quite simply that all of the bids for Santee Cooper should be laid on the table for everyone to see. Anything short of such total transparency we referred to as “an open invitation to corruption.”
Having said all of that, we rebuke the notion that Santee Cooper should be allowed to flagrantly (and fantastically) violate the rules of engagement at a time when private sector bidders are required to adhere to it.
That further invalidates the process … and opens the state up to all sorts of costly litigation.
Assuming Santee Cooper honors its word and follows through on its promise to abandon negotiations with Southern, this week’s board action would mark a coup for Leatherman – not to mention providing a capable reminder of the power the 88-year-old continues to wield over the Palmetto State.
(Click to view)
In fact, we suspect it was Leatherman in his mind when Santee Cooper chief executive officer Mark Bonsall told reporter Andy Brown of The (Charleston, S.C.) Post and Courier that he had “come to discover there are more kinds of storms in South Carolina than hurricanes.”
Again, though … we will have to wait and see whether Santee Cooper agrees to hold itself to the same standard as its suitors, or whether it continues to engage in an extra-legal, ratepayer-funded propaganda campaign.
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 reactors were supposed to have been operational in 2016 and 2017, respectively, at a cost of $9.8 billion.
(Click to view)
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.
In fact, Santee Cooper continued to raise rates on customers to pay for this project right up until the very last minute … and has sued for the right to continue raising rights even after it collapsed.
Additionally, the utility gave the former chief executive officer responsible for this $10 billion debacle a $16 million golden parachute and has subsidized his criminal defense representation as a federal investigation into approaches a point of critical mass.
Bottom line? Santee Cooper simply cannot be trusted … then or now.
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