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3 consulting firms hired to advise SC lawmakers on bids for Santee Cooper

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Santee Cooper's headquarters in Moncks Corner. File/Staff

South Carolina has selected a trio of consulting firms to assist lawmakers in reviewing offers to manage or buy Santee Cooper, the state's only public power provider. 

The S.C. Department of Administration announced Tuesday that it chose the three companies to advise state leaders as they weigh whether to offload the Moncks Corner-based utility. 

Moelis & Co., a New York investment bank, will be the lead financial consultant for the state as it sorts through the various bids for Santee Cooper. 

Gibson Dunn and Crutcher, an international law firm headquartered in Los Angeles, will take point on the proposed contracts and other legal matters. 

And Energy and Environmental Economics, or E3, a company based in San Francisco, will be charged with instructing lawmakers on utility policy. 

The exact terms of the three agreements remains unclear. The Department of Administration would not provide copies to The Post and Courier, saying the newspaper must file a formal request under the S.C Freedom of Information Act. 

The three firms will likely be retained by the state for at least six months. That's when the Department of Administration is expected to present the bids for Santee Cooper to the General Assembly. 

State lawmakers will then need to vote on whether to sell Santee Cooper, hire an outside company to manage the utility or keep the 85-year-old entity under state control. 

The selection of the three firms comes less than a week after Santee Cooper's board grudgingly agreed to pay up to $15 million for the consultants. 

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State lawmakers set aside another $5 million for the consultants in the state budget earlier this year. 

Santee Cooper supplies power to roughly 179,000 customers directly, and sells electricity to the state's 20 electric cooperatives. But it has been under increasing political pressure for the past two years. 

Gov. Henry McMaster and others began calling for the state-run utility to be sold immediately after it abandoned construction on two nuclear reactors in Fairfield County two years ago this week. And the legislature officially agreed to solicit bids for the utility earlier this year. 

Some of the country's largest investor-owned utilities have expressed interest in purchasing Santee Cooper or managing its day-to-day operations. 

Those companies include Florida-based NextEra Energy, North Carolina-based Duke Energy, Georgia-based Southern Co. and Virginia-based Dominion Energy, which recently finalized its takeover of SCANA Corp. 

There's no guarantee the money spent on the consultants will result in a sale of Santee Cooper. That decision remains in the hands General Assembly. 

Santee Cooper's leaders are currently putting together their own pitch in an attempt to convince state lawmakers to keep the utility under state control and to reform it from within. And they've hired a new CEO to lead that effort. 

The Department of Administration will present state lawmakers with the top offers as early as Jan. 15.

From there, it's up to South Carolina's 170 state lawmakers to determine the fate of Santee Cooper. 

Reach Andrew Brown at 843-708-1830 or follow him on Twitter @andy_ed_brown.

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