The chief executive officer of South Carolina’s state-owned power utility Santee Cooper said Friday he will retire — nearly a month after the utility decided to abandon a costly nuclear project.
CEO Lonnie Carter announced his resignation at a board meeting Friday morning. He plans to remain in office for a few more weeks until a temporary replacement is found, but would be the first state official to announce his departure since the V.C. Summer nuclear expansion project was abandoned July 31.
Despite pressure from angry ratepayers and lawmakers, Santee Cooper board chairman Leighton Lord insists the board did not force Carter out. “Lonnie knew when we started talking about suspending nuclear construction, he said to me, ‘This might be my time to retire,'” Lord told reporters after the meeting. “He wanted to stay through the construction of those units.”
Lord said it could take 6-9 months to find a permanent replacement. The utility plans to hire a search firm.
Carter has been CEO since 2004 and was worked with Santee Cooper ever since he was hired out of college in 1982 as an analyst in the controller’s office. Lord credited Carter with helping keep Santee Cooper’s rates among the lowest in the Southeast. He also said the utility’s role was critical in landing economic projects to the Lowcountry, particularly Volvo.
However, his parting legacy will be Santee Cooper’s role in the ill-fated V.C. Summer expansion. The utility will need to find a way to cover $4 billion in debt from the project, which could very well mean higher rates for customers in the future.
Carter indicated he still plans to testify to lawmakers, as needed, about Santee Cooper’s role in the project and any decisions he made during eight years of construction.