Santee Cooper Spinning Lawmakers, Fudging Math

Mismanaged government-run utility digs its hole deeper …

It took us awhile to track it down, but an instructive admission was made during the most recent board meeting of embattled government-run utility Santee Cooper – which has found itself on the chopping block (and under criminal investigation) after blowing billions of dollars on a pair of uncompleted nuclear reactors (and lying about the project even as it raised bills on ratepayers).

In a desperate effort to avoid being sold off to a private sector firm, Santee Cooper’s leaders have been engaged in a furious public relations and lobbying push over the last few months … even though the numbers in support of its propaganda blitz have been lacking.

And even though some of the claims have been, well … sheer lunacy.

Anyway, at the latest Santee Cooper board meeting new chief executive officer Mark Bonsall – who is making a whopping $1.2 million a year – let it slip that utility executives have been having meetings with state legislators.

Specifically, Bonsall acknowledged a meeting with members of the Horry county legislative delegation, a group which includes influential S.C. Senate judiciary chairman Luke Rankin.

Rankin, ironically, was one of the legislative architects of the botched nuclear reactor project (a.k.a. NukeGate) – in which Santee Cooper and its crony capitalist partner, SCANA, sunk an estimated $10 billion (all of which has gone up in smoke).

His admission about the legislative meeting comes at the 30:40 mark of this video …

(Via: Santee Cooper)

Why is this reference so curious?

Because Santee Cooper is not supposed to be lobbying legislators on its plans per the terms of a law governing negotiations related to its prospective sale – a law which Bonsall, ironically, acknowledged later in the board meeting.

“Interesting how he later makes (a) reference that they are not allowed to speak about their plan but meets with the delegations,” a source tracking the negotiations told us.

So … is Santee Cooper violating this law?

We certainly know its leaders have shown zero deference to legislative intent in conducting clandestine conversations with Atlanta, Georgia-based Southern Company earlier this year – hoping to enter into a memorandum of understanding that would have completely short-circuited a potential sale.

Given the habitual dishonesty of Santee Cooper’s bosses (new and old) … we wouldn’t put anything past any of them.

Also instructive? At around the 20:00 minute mark of this clip, utility officials “address” what they claim is a total of $6.98 billion in outstanding debt – including $3.97 billion in debt related to the NukeGate failure. While touting a recent bond move intended to eliminate $360 million in long-term debt, no mention is made of Santee Cooper’s plans to address the rest of the red ink.

“They make no reference as to how they are paying down the debt other than the recent single payment,” one analyst noted skeptically. “With this large bond debt associated with the nuclear debt, there should be some consideration for the monthly payments which should include interest.”

Indeed there should …

Especially as Santee Cooper pushes so-called “rate freezes” intended to lock in punitively high energy prices, subsidizes failed command economic machinations and continues making payments on golden parachutes and criminal defense bills for the leaders who landed it in its current mess.

And especially in light of Santee Cooper’s recent credit downgrades (here and here).

This news outlet has been unflinchingly critical of Santee Cooper in recent years – both for its NukeGate deception and for the way it it seems to be sabotaging long-overdue efforts to offload it.

And guess what … until we see something other than smoke and mirrors from its overpaid executives, that criticism will continue.



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