Good Question: What would sale of Santee Cooper mean?

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COLUMBIA, SC (WACH) - The two most powerful lawmakers in South Carolina's General Assembly are urging the governor not to push for an immediate sale of state-owned utility Santee Cooper.

In a letter sent to Governor McMaster Wednesday, House Speaker Jay Lucas and Senate President Pro Tempore Hugh Leatherman argued that McMaster should not push for dumping the utility at a "fire sale price."

The letter was sent shortly before a Senate panel met to question Santee Cooper leadership about the state-owned utility's operations and the possible impact of selling it.

Wednesday's hearing was the latest in a series of fact-finding meetings launched in the wake of a failed multi-billion dollar nuclear project in Fairfield County.

The lawmakers want to be certain of the utility's worth before it is sold.

So what does it all mean? That's a good question.

According to Leatherman and Lucas, a quick sale wouldn't be good for citizens or power customers.

“The people of South Carolina are the shareholders of Santee Cooper and have, collectively, been investing in the public utility for over 70 years,” wrote Leatherman, a Florence Republican, and Lucas, a Darlington Republican. “In order to approve its sale, the General Assembly and our state’s citizens must know the true value of Santee Cooper. We cannot allow this investment to be sold at a fire sale price if we firmly believe that is not in South Carolina’s best interest.”

Governor McMaster has been searching for possible buyers for the state-owned utility ever since Santee Cooper and SCE&G pulled out of the $9 billion project to build two new nuclear reactors at the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station in Jenkinsville after financing became a significant challenge.

Santee Cooper owns 45 percent of the project while SCANA, the parent company of SCE&G, owns 55 percent.

More than 5,600 people lost their jobs when the project was abandoned in late July.

McMaster says he wants a buyer to either complete one or both of the partially-built reactors or refund customers the billions of dollars they've already sunk into the scuttled project through a series of utility rate hikes.

Over the course of the almost decade-long life of the project, customers were faced with 14 utility rate increases to help pay for a project that no longer exists.

Lawmakers claim they have been left out of any discussions by the governor's office about potential buyers for Santee Cooper.

In Wednesday's letter, both Leatherman and Lucas wrote they have also heard from interested buyers and want to work together in the best interests of the state.

They add the General Assembly will do its "due diligence" and hire an outside expert to assess Santee Cooper's value.

"Whatever the outcome, we must ensure that Santee Cooper’s ratepayers have available and affordable power and protect this tremendous investment from being sold expediently as a result of a quick political decision," wrote Lucas and Leatherman.

The lawmakers say no offers from possible buyers will be accepted until Santee Cooper's value is evaluated.

Gov. McMaster said Wednesday he looks forward to working together to solve the issue.

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