Three facilities under the management of South Carolina’s debt-addled, government-run utility Santee Cooper were slapped with fines earlier this month – although the assessments in question barely register as a rounding error on the beleaguered power provider’s balance sheet.
According to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC), two of Santee Cooper’s environmentally unfriendly coal-fired plants – the Winyah Generating Station in Georgetown, S.C. and the larger Cross Generating Station in Berkeley county, S.C. – were releasing elevated levels of soot into the atmosphere.
Meanwhile, the utility’s gas-fired Rainey Generating Station near Starr, S.C. was cited for releasing elevated levels of nitrogen oxide.
How much was the fine? All told, it amounted to $22,950.
Wait … what?
That amount seems unfathomably low to me, especially considering 2018 tests at the Winyah plant revealed “particulate matter pollution … more than 50 percent higher than the standard,” according to Fretwell’s report.
Fretwell noted Santee Cooper “plans to close” Winyah in the near future, but regular readers of this news outlet know full well this abysmally managed state-owned utility – which played a starring role in one of the costliest command economic disasters in state history four years ago – cannot afford to do that.
Winyah’s four units were constructed in 1975, 1977, 1980 and 1981 and produce a combined total of 1,200 megawatts of energy. The four coal-fired units at Cross were constructed in 1984, 1995, 2007 and 2008 – although the first unit was idled in 2017. All told, Cross produces 1,780 megawatts of energy.
Santee Cooper was supposed to shutter Winyah by 2023 as part of its promise to achieve $2.7 billion in savings over the next two decades thanks to “a greener energy mix and other efficiencies.” Such operational savings are, in fact, essential if the utility hopes to avoid dramatically raising rates on residential consumers in the years to come. As my news outlet has consistently noted, though, the assumptions undergirding this plan have completely evaporated in recent years – leaving the utility with no avenue for addressing its tidal wave of red ink.
Santee Cooper is in a massive $7 billion debt hole thanks in large part to its involvement in NukeGate, the botched construction of a pair of since-abandoned nuclear reactors in Jenkinsville, S.C. The two NukeGate reactors were supposed to have been operational in 2016 and 2017, respectively. Despite the massive government debt and ratepayer investment, though, they were never completed – and Santee Cooper and its private sector partner couldn’t afford the estimated $10-16 billion price tag necessary to finish them.
On July 31, 2017 Santee Cooper pulled the plug on these reactors. Shortly thereafter, it was revealed executives at both utilities knew the project was doomed for years and didn’t warn the public. Instead, they allegedly concealed critical information from regulators while continuing to raise rates and rack up additional debt.
Santee Cooper also gave the leader who presided over the fiasco a $16 million golden parachute …
This unprecedented command economic fleecing – authored by state senator Luke Rankin and his fiscally liberal legislative allies in the S.C. General Assembly – set the state back by more than $10 billion, including more than $2 billion (and counting) in investment risk socialized by ratepayers.
While there have been some criminal consequences related to the fiasco … so far Santee Cooper has managed to evade accountability. Frankly, that is shocking considering utility leaders flat out lied on bond documents and attempted to raise rates on customers related to NukeGate just a week before pulling the plug on the project.
Sadly, Rankin and his allies in the S.C. General Assembly were successful this year in blocking Santee Cooper’s sale to the private sector – something this news outlet has championed for the last decade-and-a-half.
“Instead of getting government out of the utility business, (lawmakers) are entrusting the future of this state-owned monopoly to the same politically appointed bureaucrats who have already driven it into a ditch once already … and proven themselves wholly unworthy of the public trust in the process,” I noted at the time.
South Carolina governor Henry McMaster has been trying to convince lawmakers to sell Santee Cooper, citing its debt situation as fundamentally unresolvable.
“No one has presented a plan that would allow Santee Cooper to work its way out of four billion dollars of debt it is going to have to repay on the nuclear reactors that were not built – that were abandoned in Fairfield county,” McMaster said last month. “Plus I think it’s several more billion dollars in debt that they had prior to that – or have accumulated during that time.”
McMaster is correct. Especially considering Santee Cooper’s worsening financial situation.
“The only way to rid the state of this anti-competitive albatross (and its multi-billion dollar anchor of debt) is to sell it to the highest bidder … preferably before it racks up any more red ink,” I wrote earlier this year.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina and before that he was an alt-rock bass player and a dive bar bouncer. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven children. And yes, he has LOTS of hats (including the above-pictured Norfolk Tides’ “battleship chains” lid).
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