Members of the South Carolina House want to keep the option of selling Santee Cooper, the state’s electric utility, alive.
On Tuesday, the House handed over a provision establishing a process to consider a sale of the utility in Santee Cooper’s reform package after senators voted against reconsidering the possibility of a sale.
The Senate last month passed a reform package that requires the replacement of all but one of Santee Cooper’s board members and adds state oversight of utility tariffs, power generation plans and the ability of the public service to incur new debt.
“First of all, we demand that every major decision goes through a thorough and transparent process,” said Ways and Means President Murrell Smith, R-Sumter.
However, the Senate voted against setting up a committee of lawmakers for 10 years to review offers to explore a sale, which the House included. Members of the House added this provision on Tuesday while passing the bill and sending the bill back to the Senate.
If the Senate disagrees with the latest House version, the bill will go to the conference committee where members of both houses can iron out the differences.
The state had a suitor for Santee Cooper until recently. Florida-based NextEra had offered to buy the utility, but withdrew its offer last week.
After the Senate decision, NextEra, last year’s preferred bidder to buy Santee Cooper, officially withdrew its offer to purchase and asked for its down payment of $ 25 million.
“There isn’t anyone who says they want to buy Santee Cooper,” said Gary Simrill, the York County House Majority Leader, referring to how NextEra pulled its offer.
Simrill added, “We sell short if we pull this mat” and don’t have the process to evaluate the bids.
Not everyone agrees: 34 House members voted against adding the sales committee, a provision that creates uncertainty for Santee Cooper employees, state representative said Russell Ott, D-Calhoun.
“We’re still going to allow this cloud to hang over this agency,” Ott said.
Gov. Henry McMaster said any reform program should include some sort of sell-off provision.
“We just can’t have an honest debate about what’s best for Southern Carolinians without considering all of the options available – including the option to sell it,” McMaster tweeted Tuesday.
Lawmakers for several years mull over Santee Cooper’s future after his partnership in the failed $ 9 billion VC summer nuclear station project, leaving billions of dollars in debt and taxpayers will have to cover even though the project did not generate electricity.
Last year, lawmakers considered NextEra’s offer to buy the utility, an offer from Dominion Energy to manage Santee Cooper, and a Santee Cooper reform proposal. Lawmakers rejected all three proposals.
As part of the reform package, the Civil Service Commission will have to approve all new generation construction as well as Santee Cooper’s long-term energy production plans.
“They will have to prove that there is no other way to meet their energy needs than building a factory,” Smith said.
The employment contracts for the CEO of Santee Cooper will also need to be approved by the agency chief’s wages committee as part of the reform package. Former CEO Lonnie Carter resigned and received retirement benefits valued at $ 800,000 per year.
“The generous buyouts that took place in the previous administration that left will never happen again,” Smith said.