Once a valuable asset for the state of South Carolina, Santee Cooper is now nearing insolvency, especially if the company loses the fight with its largest customer, the electrical cooperatives.
The coops which purchase service from the state-owned agency, are suing Santee Cooper to stop the agency from continuing to charge their customers to pay for the more than $4 billion of debt due to the failed V.C. Summer project.
Santee Cooper’s questionable history has led to an outcry from South Carolina residents demanding change. One Charleston resident took to the Post and Courier to speak out on the cultural and systemic problems which have plagued Santee Cooper saying, “Paradoxically, Santee Cooper has failed to deliver more public benefits than its private sector, investor-owned companions.” While the state-owned utility frequently boasts having some of the lowest utility rates in the state, Santee Cooper actually has the second-highest utility rates, above privately-owned Duke Energy.
Unlike investor-owned Duke Energy, the Public Service Commission doesn’t have to approve rate increases for Santee Cooper since it is state-owned. Instead, it only takes a simple vote by Santee Cooper’s board of directors to raise rates on customers. And customers see the lack of concern Santee Cooper has for its customers by continuing to make decisions that aren’t beneficial for its customers. The Charleston resident put it best in their letter to the Post and Courier stating “it (Santee Cooper) has resisted almost every initiative that would provide even modest protections for the environment and public health, or that would help customers reduce power bills.”
In 2009, Santee Cooper spent a quarter-billion dollars on land, equipment, and parts before receiving federal or state permits to build a coal-fired plant in the Pee Dee. The plant then became just another one of Santee Cooper’s abandoned projects.
However, abandoning projects isn’t the only reason Santee Cooper has continued to raise rates on its customers. The state-owned utility also spent $2 million on a new CEO and deputy CEO team, granted several loans even while in debt, and as the Charleston resident pointed out in their letter, repeatedly violated the federal Clean Air Act regardless of monetary fines. “On the modest side of those miscalculations is the $2 million civil penalty Santee Cooper paid for repeatedly violating the federal Clean Air Act.”
Just last week, the Department of Administration announced it would begin inviting parties to submit bids for Santee Cooper. Direct serve and coop customers await the outcome of not only the state lawmaker’s decision on what to do with the debt-riddled agency but the court’s decision in the case between Santee Cooper and the coops.