COLUMBIA — State lawmakers netted more than 15 offers from 10 different investment firms and power companies, as the Legislature prepares to decide whether to sell the state-run utility that has powered parts of rural South Carolina for 85 years.
The bids announced Friday afternoon varied. Two offered to purchase parts of the public utility. Seven of the offers pitched a full takeover. Others offered to sell Santee Cooper power or manage its power plants and utility lines that supply electricity to around 179,000 direct customers.
ICF, the company hired by the Legislature to evaluate the offers, explained that only four of the bids met the criteria they sought.
Those offers had to include a pitch to purchase the entire utility. The company behind the offer needed a good credit rating and at least five years of experience in the industry. And the bid had to be generous enough to pay off or assume all of Santee Cooper's outstanding debt.
Three of the four preferred offers promised not to charge customers any more for the failed V.C. Summer nuclear expansion project, of which Santee Cooper owned 45 percent. The utilities also offered to lower power rates by 2 percent to 14 percent compared to Santee Cooper's projected rates over the next 20 years.
The companies behind each bid remained anonymous in the report that was shared with Gov. Henry McMaster and the other members of a special legislative committee. The panel will review ICF's report next week.
The Post and Courier verified last month that Pacolet Milliken, the Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina and Duke Energy of North Carolina threw their hat into the ring with various offers. And it has been rumored that Dominion Energy of Virginia and NextEra Energy of Florida have also shown interest in Santee Cooper.
It remains to be seen whether there will actually be enough political support in the Statehouse to coordinate a sale. The House and Senate have the final say in whether Santee Cooper, a relic of the New Deal era, is ultimately sold.
Even before the final report was given to lawmakers, Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Bonneau, sent out a statement disparaging the offers.
"The report confirms what everyone already knew," said Grooms, who represents Moncks Corner where Santee Cooper is headquartered. "Sure, there are folks willing to buy Santee Cooper, but as the report points out, a sale would be of questionable value to customers and of no value to taxpayers of South Carolina. There’s nothing new here. It’s time to move on to long term solutions that protect ratepayers and taxpayers.”
But McMaster, a Republican, reiterated his support for selling the state-run utility.
“This is a historic moment. There is no longer any significant reason to delay action needed to solve the Santee Cooper crisis," McMaster said in a statement. "I ask that members of the General Assembly objectively review this report and place the interest of our state’s ratepayers and taxpayers first and those of the naysayers last.”
ICF portrayed the 15 bids as a strong showing considering that Santee Cooper is tied up in litigation and saddled with debt due to the failed nuclear project north of Columbia.
The state-run utility issued $4 billion in bonds to pay for the project, which was cancelled in July 2017. Since then, it has been mired in a legal battle with South Carolina's 20 electric cooperatives — its largest customers — over who should pay for the failure.