COLUMBIA — Gov. Henry McMaster picked Charleston Republican Peter McCoy Jr. to lead Santee Cooper, the troubled state-owned utility that is working to redeem itself from its $4 billion nuclear fiasco.
After stints as chairman of the S.C. House's powerful Judiciary Committee and then as U.S. Attorney for South Carolina, McCoy is poised to lead Santee Cooper's board, a part-time gig that pays $24,000 a year.
McMaster said April 21 he picked McCoy — who previously investigated that nuclear debacle as a lawmaker and prosecutor — to bring transparency and accountability to an agency that has been accused of backroom deals and misleading lawmakers in recent years.
"I am confident Peter McCoy will be a true change agent," McMaster said as he announced the pick for chairman.
But first, McCoy must face screening and confirmation by the state Senate, which already blocked one of McMaster's previous Santee Cooper nominees.
An attorney by trade, McCoy would take the helm of Santee Cooper's board at a trying time.
The agency's reputation has been in the gutter since it wasted $4 billion of its ratepayers' money before cutting the cord on the failed expansion of its V.C. Summer nuclear power plant in July 2017. That joint project with Cayce-based South Carolina Electric & Gas, which no longer exists, is widely regarded as the greatest business failure in state history.
And the General Assembly is in the final throes of a yearslong debate over whether to sell — or simply restructure — Santee Cooper to protect its customers after that debacle. McMaster himself wants the agency sold.
But the governor and his supporters see McCoy as someone who could spearhead positive changes at Santee Cooper if it remains state-owned.
"He is a strong advocate for transparency at Santee Cooper," said House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Hartsville. "With Peter, I can tell you decisions won't be made in back rooms and then announced in public. They'll be made in public with all ratepayers and all taxpayers looking at what Santee Cooper does."
McCoy led the special House committee that convened in 2017 to investigate the V.C. Summer project's failure. Then he oversaw the U.S. Attorney's Office as it brought federal charges against two SCE&G executives who led the ill-fated nuclear venture.
McCoy's confirmation to the job isn't guaranteed, despite his popularity and experience.
His selection, which comes late in the 2021 legislative session, gives slow-moving senators just weeks to screen and confirm him.
Senators and McMaster also have a history of butting heads over Santee Cooper, in part because they have resisted his efforts to privatize the utility.
In June 2018, McMaster appointed former S.C. Attorney General Charlie Condon, a political ally, to the job. But senators sued to block Condon’s off-session appointment, arguing they hadn’t confirmed the Charleston Republican to lead the utility.
The state Supreme Court sided with McMaster, but in 2019 the governor withdrew Condon’s name after a Senate panel rejected him.
Some senators had qualms about installing Condon in the midst of a debate about whether to sell Santee Cooper.
But McCoy's selection has received more positive reviews, thanks in part to the former lawmaker's relationships in the General Assembly.
McCoy was guarded about his plans for the agency because he hasn't gone through the Senate confirmation. But he said he wants to lead the charge to restore public trust in Santee Cooper.
"I want to be the face of that," he said.