Members of the governing board of Santee Cooper – South Carolina’s atrociously managed, state-owned power provider – are being paid thousands of dollars to work part-time in their politically appointed positions. They are also receiving thousands of dollars for travel and related expense “reimbursements” in connection with their meetings, an analysis by reporter Rick Brundrett of The (Columbia, S.C.) Nerve discovered.
According to Brundrett’s report – based on documents obtained from the S.C. State Ethics Commission (SCSEC) – Santee Cooper board members are currently compensated in the amount of $10,400 a year. On top of that, they receive $2,000 for related meeting expenses.
That’s not a bad payday for simply showing up to a meeting once a month for a few hours …
In fact, it is an especially good payday considering many of Santee Cooper’s recent meetings have been held with a “virtual” attendance option for board members due to the coronavirus pandemic.
More egregiously, as this news outlet reported last year, these same board members were on the receiving end of taxpayer-provided health care benefits for several years – even though they were not legally entitled to receive such perks. These benefits were belatedly terminated in December, however Santee Cooper’s chief legislative apologist Luke Rankin – who is in business with one board member and has been taking campaign cash from its acting chairman – has proposed reinstating them as part of his so-called “reform” plan for the agency.
Do these board members deserve those benefits? Hell no …
By way of refreshing our readers, all but one member of the current Santee Cooper board was serving back on July 31, 2017. On that date, these board members voted to pull the plug on NukeGate – the botched construction of a pair of since-abandoned nuclear reactors in Jenkinsville, S.C. This failed command economic boondoggle – championed by Rankin and other state lawmakers – plunged the Palmetto State into a $10 billion hole (without so much as a watt of energy to show for it).
For years, Santee Cooper and its private sector partner – SCANA – raised rates on its customers to pay for the abandoned reactors. In fact, Santee Cooper’s board proposed a huge rate hike just one week before pulling the plug on the debacle.
After the project imploded, it was revealed that leaders at both utilities knew the reactors were doomed for years – and didn’t warn the public.
Astoundingly, no board members have lost their jobs as a result of this disaster. In fact, five of the board’s ten all-white members are currently still serving even though their terms have expired. Two additional board members’ terms are set to expire this year.
That is truly stunning … not to mention another indictment of the failed leadership of governor Henry McMaster, who is in charge of appointing all of the Santee Cooper board members with the advice and consent of the S.C. Senate. It is also an indictment of the failed leadership of former governor Nikki Haley – who appointed the Santee Cooper board members who presided over the NukeGate fiasco.
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Adding insult to injury, these board members rewarded the chief executive officer who served during NukeGate with a $16 million golden parachute. Then they spent millions of dollars on a new management team that has continued in the same dishonest vein as its predecessor – doling out huge raises to its leaders during a global recession, to boot.
Did the new leaders deserve this largesse? Again … hell no.
In the aftermath of NukeGate, Santee Cooper has taken on an unsustainable level of debt … debt which continues to rise as the utility’s promises to achieve green energy savings (and implement other efficiencies) have all gone up in smoke. Literally.
As our founding editor Will Folks noted in a recent piece, “the failure of ‘reform’ means lawmakers have only two remaining options for addressing the ongoing disaster that is Santee Cooper: They can reopen negotiations to privatize it … or they can do nothing.”
In that post, Folks challenged McMaster, House speaker Jay Lucas, Senate president Harvey Peeler, Senate majority leader Shane Massey, House majority leader Gary Simrill, Senate finance chairman Hugh Leatherman and House ways and means chairman Murrell Smith to begin “actively negotiating a deal” to offload the utility to the private sector – something he proposed doing back in the spring of 2008 when such a move would have netted taxpayers billions of dollars.
Last February, Florida-based NextEra Energy – the nation’s largest energy company – submitted the winning bid to purchase Santee Cooper from the state. The total value of that offer – which included erasing Santee Cooper’s massive debt – totaled $9.4 billion.
Obviously, though, a lot has changed since last February … which is why new negotiations are needed.
Earlier this month, NextEra’s chief executive officer Jim Robo penned a letter to S.C. Senate president Harvey Peeler indicating his company’s willingness to submit “a revised proposal that delivers an exceptional package of benefits to South Carolina.”
“We would welcome the opportunity to discuss the terms of a new proposal with the leadership of the General Assembly that, if acceptable, could them be presented to the full body,” Robo wrote in his letter to Peeler.
State leaders should waste no more time entering into such a discussion. Again, doing nothing in the aftermath of a $10 billion fleecing is simply not an option – especially considering so many of the same people who presided over that disaster remain at their posts. If Santee Cooper has proven anything over the last decade-and-a-half, it’s that government has absolutely no business trying to run a power company.
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