COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - About two million electric cooperative customers in South Carolina could see their bills increase, again, to cover the cost of the shutdown nuclear reactors at V.C. Summer in Fairfield County.
On Tuesday, lawmakers questioned the state-owned utility company, Santee Cooper's CEO, Lonnie Carter, as Governor Henry McMaster continues attempts to sell the company.
Carter told the House of Representatives panel that Santee Cooper will have to recover the cost of the reactors, therefore, there can be no refunds and rates could increase within a few years. He explained the reason for this because the company is funded solely by customers, without shareholders.
On the eve of his retirement, Carter took the hot seat, alone, across from the panel which seated, spanned from wall to wall. He was questioned on why the project to build the two new nuclear reactors is no more, and why the company he oversees, quit their role in it. There was an email and letter dated 2016 and 2013, brought to light by committee co-chair Rep. Peter McCoy (R-Charleston).
Revealing the past correspondence to SCANA CEO Kevin Marsh, McCoy questioned whether Carter knew of the project's doom yet moved forward anyway. But Carter says in reality, Santee Cooper had less control of the project, owning 45 percent of it.
"In my opinion, a pretty powerful message that relays the fact that these are not minor concerns to Mr. Marsh, that are being sent. I mean, you use words like we're placing the project's future in danger," McCoy said.
"If you don't get the materials to the site, you can't build it," Carter said.
On selling the company in part or whole, as the governor is working toward, Carter believes it could be bad for customers. Committee co-chair Rep. Russell Ott (D- Calhoun) agrees.
"All of the testimony that we've heard thus far I think shows that Santee Cooper as a utility is an overall good for the state of South of Carolina, and again I don't know how many utilities would want to come in and take on the debt that would have to be incurred by buying Santee Cooper," Ott says.
The governor's office says there are companies he's negotiating with that are interested in buying some or all of the company, in an effort to continue the project or benefit ratepayers. But they won't release who is involved.
Santee Cooper supports the electric co-ops in South Carolina. That's about 2 million customers, many of them along the coastline, in areas from Moncks Corner to North Myrtle Beach.