One of the most powerful lawmakers in South Carolina expressed serious reservations with the so-called “reform” proposal being advanced by the Palmetto State’s spectacularly failed government-run utility, Santee Cooper.
Murrell Smith – the top budget writer in the S.C. House and chairman of an ad hoc committee committee tasked with assessing plans for the utility’s future – blistered the proposal during hearings held in Columbia, S.C. on Thursday morning.
Smith repeatedly challenged the financial assumptions presented by the utility along with its “reform” plan, which is one of three options state lawmakers are currently considering for the embattled utility.
“I’ve got a lot of questions and concerns,” Smith said. “Their whole reform proposal seems to be riddled with laudable aspirations.”
Smith’s comments echoed concerns articulated earlier this week in which he bristled at the notion that lawmakers could trust the utility to do what it promised.
To recap: Lawmakers are debating whether to sell Santee Cooper to Juno Beach, Florida-based NextEra Energy, allow Virginia-based Dominion Energy to manage it or let the utility try and fix its own problems.
The debate flows from NukeGate, a catastrophically failed government-driven experiment in the nuclear power industry. Incentivized by state lawmakers, Santee Cooper and SCANA spent $10 billion on the construction of a pair of next-generation reactors in Jenkinsville, S.C. that were supposed to have been operational in 2016 and 2017, respectively.
Despite the massive cash outlay, the project was never finished – and Santee Cooper and SCANA 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 reactors. Shortly thereafter, it was revealed executives at both utilities knew the project was doomed for years and didn’t warn the public.
In fact, Santee Cooper pulled the plug on the reactors just one week after its politically appointed board proposed fresh rate increases related to their construction.
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(Via: High Flyer SC)
Needless to say, such dishonesty – which is currently the focus of an ongoing criminal investigation and a host of civil lawsuits – has left significant doubts in the minds of legislative leaders like Smith. And not just as it relates to what has happened in the past.
Looking forward, Smith said he was disappointed by Santee Cooper’s proposal on several fronts – most notably its failure to address long-overdue managerial changes.
“I don’t see much change in the management of Santee Cooper,” he said, adding the current leadership had “failed on multiple occasions.”
Same goes for the new bosses …
He also expressed concern that Santee Cooper had failed to identify and incorporate the specific legislative actions required to enact its reform proposals – which he contrasted with the NextEra sale plan, which did incorporate those proposals.
“At least they were forthright with it,” Smith said, referring to the NextEra proposal. “I expected Santee Cooper to do the same.”
“Reform of governance is a legislative prerogative, not a Santee Cooper board prerogative,” Smith added bluntly.
Smith did, however, express doubt that any of the proposals – including the NextEra bid – could muster sufficient legislative support for all of the required enabling legislation. He specifically indicated there were not enough votes in the S.C. House to pass tax reforms linked to the sale bid.
The influential lawmaker closed out his commentary with an unexpected shoutout to supporters of deregulation.
“It seems like the future is RTOs,” he said, referring to regional transmission organizations that enhance competition and lower rates, according to their supporters.
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Banner: Columbia SC Photographer Travis Bell