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NextEra CEO says proposed takeover of Santee Cooper is not dead

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James Robo

James Robo is the CEO of NextEra Energy. File/Provided/SC ETV 

NextEra Energy isn't ready to give up on its potential takeover of South Carolina's state-run utility just yet. 

On Wednesday, NextEra CEO James Robo was asked about his company's multibillion-dollar offer to buy Santee Cooper during a quarterly earnings call with analysts and investors. 

It was a question Robo likely anticipated considering his team spent the past three months trying to convince South Carolina's Legislature to accept NextEra's bid for the 86-year-old public utility.  

The offer has met resistance among South Carolina's 170 state lawmakers, who need to sign off on any potential sale of Santee Cooper. And it has been complicated even further by the coronavirus pandemic, which has shut down this year's legislative session. 

Even so, Robo made it clear to investors and Wall Street analysts that he is not prepared to admit defeat — at least not publicly. 

"By no means is Santee Cooper done," said Robo, referring to NextEra's bid. "There remains a lot of energy still behind wanting to sell Santee Cooper."

Robo, who has led NextEra for nearly eight years, pointed to recent comments by lawmakers in the South Carolina House, in which they called Moncks Corner-based Santee Cooper a "rogue agency."

And he emphasized that Gov. Henry McMaster's continued to support privatizing the state-run utility, which wasted more than $4 billion on the failed V.C. Summer nuclear project in Fairfield County. 

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But the analysts that monitor NextEra, the largest publicly traded power provider in the country, openly questioned whether it would need to move on and look for other merger opportunities elsewhere in the country. 

One analyst seemingly lumped NextEra's bid for Santee Cooper into the same category as the company's recent attempt to take over another public utility in Jacksonville, Fla. The analyst referred to both of those offers as "lost opportunities." 

"Jacksonville and Santee Cooper look like they're done," the analyst said. 

But Robo didn't see it that way. He acknowledged that disagreements over Santee Cooper had led to a standoff in the South Carolina Senate, where lawmakers have been more resistant to NextEra's bid. 

Still, Robo argued there may be enough political momentum left to privatize Santee Cooper and its electric lines, power plants and hyrdoelectric dams. 

"It's not done," Robo said. 

It may be a while before South Carolinians and NextEra's investors can determine the truth of that. 

The Legislature is unlikely to decide anything regarding Santee Cooper's future until the fall or early next year. 

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

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