Panel of S.C. senators listen to private company’s presentation to buy Santee Cooper

Panel of S.C. senators listen to private company’s presentation to buy Santee Cooper

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - According to experts, about 2 million people in South Carolina rely on Santee Cooper for their power in some way.

The future of the state-owned utility will be the focus of legislators in Columbia for the coming days and weeks.

Lawmakers are currently trying to decide whether to sell Santee Cooper, let another company manage it or let Santee Cooper restructure itself. Last week, the Department of Administration released a 111-page report detailing the three bids for the utility.

On Wednesday, legislators on the Senate Finance Committee questioned officials with NextEra Energy about their bid to purchase Santee Cooper. The company, based out of Florida, said they operate in dozens of states.

According to the report, NextEra's offer would pay off the $6.9 billion debt Santee Cooper has. Part of that debt is from the failed VC Summer Nuclear Project. Right now, ratepayers are paying off that debt.

Some lawmakers said they are concerned about the rates customers could be paying in the future if NextEra purchases Santee Cooper. According to the Department of Administration's report, in 20 years, NextEra's rates for customers will be higher than what's projected if Santee Cooper reforms itself.

On Wednesday afternoon, Senator Nikki Setzler (D-Lexington) questioned NextEra Energy CEO James Robo about legislation the company wants lawmakers to pass. Robo said lawmakers would have to pass the legislation to allow the sale to happen.

"Is there no deal if you change elements in the legislation?” Robo said. “It depends on what elements in the legislation you change."

The report shows NextEra’s bid would also settle a lawsuit with ratepayers. They are proposing giving out $541 million in refunds or rate credits intended to settle the Cook litigation.

Glenn Stephens recently retired after working with Santee Cooper for 35 years. He has attended all the meetings lawmakers have called since officials released the reports on the bids.

Stephens said he and other retirees would prefer lawmakers to allow Santee Cooper to restructure itself. He said the proposed job cuts in NextEra’s bid concerns him.

"You got to be concerned that reliability will suffer. I listen to Mr. Robo talk about his improvements and other things but there is nothing like boots on the ground when you talk about reliability," Stephens said.

Right now, there are 1,675 budgeted positions at Santee Cooper. If NextEra buys the utility, the report states, they want to cut about 700 jobs by 2025.

Senators will be listening to testimony from Dominion on Thursday. They have a bid to manage Santee Cooper.

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