Influential SC lawmakers seek Santee Cooper compromise


COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) – Six of South Carolina’s most influential lawmakers will get together soon to see if they can agree on a proposal to overhaul state-owned utility Santee Cooper.

The conference committee is needed because the House and Senate passed different versions of a bill giving regulators and others more oversight of the utility.

While both chambers generally agreed on the reform ideas, the House wants to keep taking offers to sell Santee Cooper and the Senate rejected that proposal.

The House members of the committee are Republican Speaker Jay Lucas, Republican Ways and Means Chairman Murrell Smith and Democratic House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford. They average 21 years serving the the House.

The Senate members are Republican Senate Judiciary Chairman Luke Rankin, Republican Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey and Democratic Senate Minority Leader Brad Hutto. They average 22 years serving in the Senate.

The committee likely has until around the end of June to come up with a compromise that would have to be approved by both the Senate and House before it could head to the governor’s desk.

The main sticking point between the two sides is whether to sell Santee Cooper. The House wants to create a committee of three senators and three House members that can seek and accept any bids to buy Santee Cooper over the next 10 years. Any bids would have to be approved by the entire General Assembly.

The House passed the proposal 85-3, while the Senate rejected a similar idea 36-8.

There were minor differences in the parts of the bill that overhaul Santee Cooper, but both chambers mostly agree on the general points.

Both chambers get rid of by 2023 the nine members of the current 10-person Santee Cooper board who were serving before 2017, when the utility was the minority partner in building two nuclear reactors. Those projects were abandoned before generating power, losing billions of dollars.

The proposals from both chambers gives state regulators more power over Santee Cooper, from requiring them to review the utility’s future plans to generate power and their forecasts for power use to requiring public hearings and a watchdog to question utility executives about rate increases.

A state committee would have approval power over any severance packages for utility executives and would have to approve any new bonds or debt Santee Cooper assumes.

Gov. Henry McMaster praised the House for passing both the reform and sale components of the bill Tuesday on Twitter.

“We simply can’t have an honest debate about what’s best for South Carolinians without considering all available options – including the option to sell it,” the governor posted.


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