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Russell Ott: Santee Cooper Deserves Credit, Not Criticism

“Let Santee Cooper’s leadership do their best now to improve the utility.”

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by RUSSELL OTT || We need to have a truly honest conversation about Santee Cooper. I’m certainly no Santee Cooper apologist. People at the highest levels of the utility, past and present, screwed up, royally. Big mistakes were made that will take time and effort to overcome whether through a management agreement, a sale, or through major reform by Santee Cooper’s new management. All that said, anything that Santee Cooper can do at present to prevent rate increases, lower the debt created by the nuclear debacle, and to improve the overall value of the enterprise to the state should be strongly encouraged, not attacked and pummeled with merit-less accusations.

Threatened with an injunction? For what – possibly entering into a non-binding agreement with another utility to study potential cost savings through collaboration? That is what we have seen in recent days from a Department of Administration (SCDOA) that may be influenced by a governor who appears obsessed with selling the state’s largest asset.

Santee Cooper’s customers are the rope in a raging tug of war where one end includes would-be bidders who have spent vast amounts of money on advertising, digital marketing, lobbying and third-party groups, and those on the other end that assert that Santee Cooper should never be sold regardless of what the private sector brings to the table. Unfortunately, it also appears that both ends include those wishing to get a notch on their ideological belt and thus a political win by influencing the outcome.

Over the last two years I, and others, have complained that Santee Cooper has been sitting on its hands doing nothing substantive amidst one of the largest financial calamities in our state’s history. Well, it at least appears the new leadership has received the message. They are proactively addressing their challenges in the attempt to improve the overall financial health of the enterprise, and yet, they are still being criticized. This seems hypocritical at best and meddlesome at worst.

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(Via: Santee Cooper)

The business forecast approved by Santee Cooper’s Board of Directors this past Monday shows that they are attempting to avoid rate increases and mitigate the impact of the nuclear debt to customers. Why is this a bad thing? If Santee Cooper, in the execution of its daily management or in its reform proposal, wants to enter into an agreement that will cut costs and improve its value to the state, wouldn’t that mean a better deal is in store for South Carolina, and better rates for the customers, should they be sold?

For the life of me, I do not understand why that does not make good financial and common sense. More importantly, the joint resolution we passed earlier this year does not preclude that.

All I want is a fair playing field for all participants. Instead of threatening an injunction over a non-issue, perhaps the DOA should consider ensuring the consultants and lawyers they hired are not financially incentivized to come to any particular conclusion, a concern raised recently in an article by The State’s Avery Wilks.

While I honestly do not know how I will vote, I know it will be based on what is in the best interest of the customers that get their power from Santee Cooper and the taxpayers of South Carolina. Santee Cooper should continue to do their best to improve the utility and all bidders should submit their best proposals, without restriction.

In the interim, let’s remember this is far too large a decision to let political motivations rule the day. Have we learned nothing from Base Load Review Act? It is wrong to prohibit Santee Cooper from running its day-to-day operations, from pursuing savings and better processes, especially, when they will be worth more whether sold, managed, or reformed. No decision this big or important should be tarnished by the meddling of those with motives that go beyond the good of the state. When the General Assembly takes its vote, it will affect million of people and economic development across South Carolina for decades to come. Let Santee Cooper’s leadership do their best now to improve the utility. If they do, then we all win in the end.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

(Via: Travis Bell Photography)

Russell Ott is a businessman and farmer from St. Matthews, S.C. who represents the people of Calhoun, Orangeburg and Lexington counties in the S.C. House of Representatives.

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