Less than forty-eight hours after a South Carolina circuit court judge upheld its “exclusive monopoly” to provide power to private sector corporations in its service area, failed government-run power provider Santee Cooper will enter into negotiations with another target of its habitual fleecing – coastal homeowners.
Representatives of this debt-addled, chronically mismanaged, truth averse “rogue agency” will gather on October 14, 2020 to meet with leaders of homeowners’ groups in Horry and Georgetown counties.
Several homeowners associations in the Santee Cooper service area have been paying the utility monthly rental fees of $22.30 per post – and another $15.77 per lamp fixture – usually without even knowing it. Given the number of posts per neighborhood, the annual bill for this “service” has eclipsed $100,000 in some cases.
And no, these costs do not include the power necessary to illuminate the fixtures on these posts …
“When a community is first being developed … Santee Cooper approaches that developer and says ‘have we got a deal for you!’” homeowner Bob Sweet explained to the website MyrtleBeachSC.com last month. “You don’t have to finance hundreds of thousands of dollars to put in your outdoor lighting system. We’ll pay for that. And then when you do that, we’ll just lease them back to you. Then in a year of two, we will turn this over to a duly elected H.O.A., then they will assume this contract for you.”
The problem? Long after the financing costs are recovered, these rental fees continue. Not only that, there is no getting out of the deal. In fact, Santee Cooper originally claimed it could not sell these “lighting assets” back to the individual neighborhoods without the expressed authorization of the S.C. General Assembly.
Specifically, the utility argued it was not allowed to dispose of “surplus property” without “prior approval from the General Assembly.”
“Santee Cooper is asserting a legal obligation to continue this scam,” we noted incredulously in our coverage.
Just as it apparently has a “legal obligation” to kill jobs in its service area by denying customers access to cheaper alternatives …
Anyway, the utility appeared to back off of its lamp post threat – with its top lobbyist Geoffrey Penland telling homeowners late last month that Santee had “developed a new opinion related to the sale of lighting fixtures.”
Now, according to Penland, Santee Cooper “may sell lighting facilities to neighborhood.”
Of course that option could be cost prohibitive to homeowners, too, as the utility is demanding a $1,000 up-front payment per pole to install mandated meters (and pay a $35 per pole metering cost each month).
And again, that is not counting the cost of the infrastructure … or the power that would flow through it.
Fellow homeowners association (HOA) advocate Doug Decker – founder of the Streetlight Fair Rental Alliance – raised concerns about this proposal in an email to Penland earlier this month.
“Many of the HOAs we have talked to see no viable options to reduce their streetlighting costs under the current Santee Cooper Outdoor Lighting policy,” Decker wrote. “The rental agreements entered into between Santee Cooper and Developers are inherited by HOAs when the Developer completes the project. After Santee Cooper has recovered its investment, streetlight rental rates remain the same. The purchase of poles and fixtures, plus the cost of installation, including meter stanchions, is cost prohibitive for most HOAs. Also, the requirement of meters is viewed as a ‘cost shift’ and will likely be more expensive than continuing to pay Santee Cooper’s rental fees.”
The email also expressed concern about Santee Cooper’s insistence on switching existing fixtures to ones with costlier light-emitting diodes (LEDs).
According to Decker, the proposed conversion “increases the HOA overall streetlighting costs.” Also, the higher rental rate associated with these fixtures would cannibalize any “energy savings” achieved by the switch.
Of particular interest? Decker’s email to Penland noted that while homeowners were “encouraged by Santee Cooper’s recent announcement signaling a willingness to take a fresh look at existing arrangements” they were also “concerned by some of the inflammatory rhetoric that has surfaced in the press regarding the relationship between HOAs and Santee Cooper.”
“On many topics, both regionally and nationally, constructive dialog is being drowned out by a caustic environment and accusatory statements,” Decker wrote. “In our pending conversations with your officials, we pledge to genuinely listen, to be respectful, professional, and candid.”
Which means these homeowners don’t stand a chance …
Santee Cooper is engaged in all manner of fleecings as it attempts to dig its way out of a multi-billion dollar hole related to the NukeGate debacle – the botched construction of a pair of abandoned nuclear reactors in Jenkinsville, S.C.
And sadly, state lawmakers (and now judges) are enabling them … again.
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