In the ongoing events that surround Santee Cooper and the V.C. Summer scandal, a $520 million settlement has been made in the case of Jessica Cook. However, the settlement amount, which was already just a slither of the debt pie Santee Cooper has racked up, came out to an even lesser amount of $300 million, to be made in two payments, by the time all legal fees were paid.
The class-action lawsuit, led by Jessica Cook, was filed in 2017 over the failed V.C. Summer project and the billions of dollars wasted and being passed onto all of the utility’s direct-serve and electric cooperative customers.
The settlement also includes a 4-year “rate freeze,” leading many to believe that efforts to sell Santee Cooper could come to a halt. However, the debt that customers are already paying for is still being paid through their power bill, essentially paying themselves for the rate freeze. Additionally, as previously stated, the settlement amount is just a small fraction of the total debt that will eventually have to be paid off.
In the larger scheme of things, the state-owned energy company is still billions of dollars in debt, due to the V.C. Summer, failed projects, and other ventures. So, while the Cook case is a win in the eyes of some, it does little to fix all of the outstanding issues surrounding Santee Cooper or give customers any answers to the rest of the debt that is owed or the debt they’re already paying for.
More news has just recently been released that the company is paying $1.1 Million to former Santee Cooper lawyer, Mike Baxley. Mr. Baxley served on the Santee Cooper general counsel and was recently laid off in efforts to cut costs. However, he was sent on his way with $495,000 and will receive an additional pension over the next 15 years. Baxley was also given additional compensation in return to agreeing not to sue the company and was added to the list of former executives who left with a golden parachute being paid by customers.
Giving large payouts is business as usual for Santee Cooper who paid gave golden parachutes to outgoing executives associated with the V.C. Summer debacle. However, what does this mean for ratepayers in the future? The company continues to shovel money into paying out their executives while the 4-year “freeze-rate” does little for Santee Cooper’s direct serve and coop customers since they continue to pay for the debt as it piles up. The only real way to protect Santee’s customers is to sell Santee Cooper to an IOU that will have proper oversight and eliminate the debt otherwise there is no question that rates will skyrocket at the end of the rate-freeze time period.