Gov. Henry McMaster

Gov. Henry McMaster Staff/Andrew Brown

COLUMBIA — Gov. Henry McMaster wants to know if Santee Cooper's team of Statehouse lobbyists are trying to undermine his months-long attempt to sell the public utility. 

The Republican governor sent a letter to Santee Cooper's leaders Tuesday asking the Moncks Corner utility to turn over documents and communications with its four lobbyists in Columbia.

McMaster also wants to know how much Santee Cooper is paying them.

Santee Cooper, which added two powerful outside lobbyists in January to the pair already on its staff, said it specifically told its lobbyists not to oppose the sale of the utility. 

"Their instructions are to facilitate the flow of information, including responding to the many questions from legislators and staff, relating to all topics and bills that could impact Santee Cooper customers," Santee Cooper spokeswoman Mollie Gore said. 

In a letter two weeks ago, Santee Cooper's new chairman William Finn told McMaster that "it is not within their authority nor appropriate to oppose your efforts or initiatives." 

As the 2018 legislative session kicked off, Santee Cooper raised eyebrows when it hired lobbyists Dwight Drake, a well-connected Democrat working with the Nelson Mullins law firm, and Fred Allen, who worked on campaigns for Republican Govs. Carroll Campbell and David Beasley.

Drake has a high-powered list of clients, including BMW, AT&T, Apple, Walmart, MillerCoors and Philip Morris parent Altria. Allen also represents AT&T and BMW and cigarette maker Reynolds American.

McMaster has been pitching a sale of Santee Cooper since the cancellation of the $9 billion V.C. Summer nuclear reactors in Fairfield County this past summer.

In reality, the governor has little ability to sell Santee Cooper himself. The South Carolina Legislature has the final say.

Santee Cooper serves 170,000 customers in the Lowcountry and Myrtle Beach area and provides power to another 770,000 more ratepayers through sales to electric cooperatives.

A pair of utilities have expressed serious interest in buying Santee Cooper, NextEra Energy of Florida and Pacolet Milliken of Greenville, with a price tag hovering around $10 billion.

New York-based LS Power is interested in managing Santee Cooper with an option to buy, a source with knowledge of negotiations told The Post and Courier. LS Power has agreed to sell its Sandy Run natural gas-fuel electric generating plant in Calhoun County to South Carolina Electric & Gas for $180 million.

Santee Cooper was partners with SCANA, SCE&G's parent company, in the abandoned V.C. Summer project. The Sandy Run plant would partially replace the electricity supposed to come from the expansion at the nuclear plant north of Columbia.

Andy Shain contributed to this report.

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