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Santee Cooper board approves metrics for determining executive bonuses

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Santee Cooper's board of directors set the criteria Aug. 23 for how salary bonuses could be given to CEO Mark Bonsall and deputy CEO Charlie Duckworth. File

Santee Cooper's top two executives will be eligible for salary bonuses based on goals achieved during a half-year of performance under a plan approved by the public electric and water utility's board of directors.

The incentive pay would be on top of more than $402,000 in bonuses given June 21 to Mark Bonsall, the utility's president and CEO, and Charles Duckworth, deputy CEO. The six-figure bonus pool was awarded when Santee Cooper's board extended the two executives' contracts for another six months while looking for a fulltime chief executive.

The board said during its Aug. 23 meeting that another round of bonuses — a maximum $125,000 for Bonsall and $82,500 for Duckworth — could be given depending on whether the executives meet a series of goals by the time their contracts expire on Jan. 9. 

The performance goals fall into three categories, said David Wathen, managing director of executive compensation firm Willis Towers Watson. The firm worked with Santee Cooper management to define those goals.

They include helping to facilitate a smooth transition beyond the period when Santee Cooper has agreed to freeze electric rates for most customers. That agreement, part of a legal settlement tied to the failed V.C. Summer nuclear plant expansion, runs through 2024. Putting Santee Cooper on a smooth path beyond the rate freeze would account for 40 percent of the executives' bonuses.

Other goals include successful efforts in natural gas hedging, debt refinancing and generation, transmission, and natural gas supply planning. The board also wants Bonsall and Duckworth to work with Dominion Energy on a plan to share resources to meet electricity demand, help create an effective risk management plan and comply with demands for more legislative oversight of the utility's finances.

The state's General Assembly passed a law overhauling Santee Cooper in the wake of the nuclear plant debacle, which put Santee Cooper billions of dollars in debt.

The utility came under fire Aug. 17 when legislators complained that no South Carolina law firms were offered a shot at working on a $350 million bond sale that's expected to refinance Santee Cooper debt at a lower interest rate. Rather than denying or delaying the debt sale, the state's Joint Bond Review Committee let Santee Cooper hire a South Carolina-based law firm to work as co-counsel on the bond sale with New York-based Nixon Peabody LLP.

Bonsall and Duckworth came to Santee Cooper in 2019 following the V.C. Summer expansion failure. They previously were executives at Arizona utility Salt River Project. Bonsall earns $1.1 million a year as Santee Cooper's CEO while Duckworth makes $560,000 annually. They will be paid half of that amount under their six-month contract extensions.

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