If state-owned utility Santee Cooper is sold, any company wanting to buy it would have to take on its debt.
That’s what members of a joint committee of state lawmakers heard Wednesday from leaders of the state-owned power utility. Santee Cooper has $7.8 billion in debt, a majority of it driven by an ill-fated nuclear project it abandoned last year with South Carolina Electric & Gas.
“I just want to be clear, there is no magic bullet here that if you sell it that debt goes away,” State Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, said in his questioning of the utility’s executives.
The joint Public Service Authority Evaluation and Recommendation Committee heard testimony Wednesday from Santee Cooper’s top executives.
Santee Cooper was the minority partner of SCANA in the failed expansion nuclear expansion at the VC Summer plant in Fairfield County. The two companies decided in July 2017 that there was no feasible way they could complete the project. Santee Cooper spent about $4 billion on the project.
Gov. Henry McMaster has been pushing for the sale of the state-owned utility since the project’s failure. The governor has said that a sale could be a way for Santee Cooper to pay off its nuclear debt and protect customers.
Santee Cooper leaders also noted any prospective buyer would have to be willing to take ownership of the network of lakes and recreation areas it maintains across South Carolina, most notably lakes Marion and Moultrie. The lakes are hugely popular among anglers and recreational boaters and cost the utility roughly $11 million each year to maintain. However, their hydroelectric potential contributes just a fraction of Santee Cooper’s overall capacity. The operating license to maintain the dams is up for renewal, as Santee Cooper has been operating on a series of one-year extensions since 2006.
Legislators will need to approve any sale of Santee Cooper. The joint committee is tasked with studying potential options before that can happen.