Santee Cooper to issue up to $1.2B in revenue bonds

The State Ports Authority’s North Charleston Terminal is shown.

Moncks Corner-based Santee Cooper will hold what could be the second-largest bond sale in the electric utility’s history this week when it issues between $700 million and $1.2 billion worth of revenue bonds.

The proceeds will be used to refinance debt and help pay the utility’s share of new nuclear power units being built at the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station in Jenkinsville.

The final size of the bond deal will depend on interest rate movement by the time the bonds are priced Tuesday and Wednesday, with a more favorable interest rate leading to a larger sale.

The utility’s largest bond issue was in 2013, when a $1.8 billion package was approved for capital expenses and debt refinancing.

This week’s sale will give private individuals an opportunity to purchase the revenue bonds, which are usually only sold to big institutional investors. Individuals can buy up to $1 billion worth of the bonds on Tuesday, with the remainder to be sold to organizations such as mutual funds and pension funds.

The bonds will be sold in four issuances and most will be tax-exempt except for one issue totaling $170 million.

The issue drew a rating of A1 from Moody’s, which also issued Santee Cooper a stable outlook and reaffirmed its long-term debt ratings. Ratings from other agencies are expected later this week.

Investors interested in participating in the retail issue can contact Santee Cooper’s bondholder relations office at 877-246-3338.

Santee Cooper is South Carolina’s largest power producer, providing electricity to 40 percent of the state’s population, or about 2 million people. The utility has 45 percent owner-ship of the V.C. Summer plant in a partnership with South Carolina Electric & Gas Co.

The State Ports Authority took home awards for the top U.S. port and the nation’s top terminal during last week’s Journal of Commerce Productivity Awards, the industry publication announced.

The top port award went to the Port of Charleston, while the terminal award went to the SPA’s North Charleston Terminal.

Bill McLean, senior vice president of operations for the SPA, says in a YouTube video the journal produced announcing the awards that the port’s success can be tied to its reliable operations.

“It helps us very much to define our brand,” McLean said. “We have reliability, we have low cost, (and) vessel operators are able to plan their itineraries around our productivity. It’s a very dependable, reliable, low-cost operation.”

David Hoffman, manager of the North Charleston Terminal, said an efficient layout is the key to that operation’s productivity.

“In my mind, I think it’s a three-tiered approach,” Hoffman says in the video. “You have a planning side, you have a gate side and you have a deep side, or vessel side. The planning that my supervisors put in to getting the yard laid out the way it needs to be laid out so we can operate efficiently from the gate and the vessel side gives us an advantage over most other ports.”

Container volume in Charleston increased 12 percent in 2014, with December an especially strong month with container volume up 14 percent compared to a year earlier. Jim Newsome, the SPA’s CEO, told a state Senate committee Wednesday that the port is operating close to pre-recession levels.

The potential for increased business has spurred several new projects at the port, according to McLean.

“We’re buying two new container cranes for the short-term for Wando (terminal), we’re moving some cranes from Wando to North Charleston to do some improvements there, we’re doing some wharf rehabilitation to support 14,000 TEU ships, we have a billion-dollar container terminal under construction that’s going to be open, hopefully, by 2020,” McLean said. “And the biggest thing is we’re deepening our harbor to 52 feet (from 45 feet), hopefully to be done by the end of the decade.”