COLUMBIA — Gov. Henry McMaster appointed former S.C. Attorney General Charlie Condon as the interim chairman of Santee Cooper's board Monday as lawmakers continue to consider selling the state-owned utility and its leaders fight off lawsuits over a failed nuclear power project.
But Senate President Pro Tem Hugh Leather, R-Florence, and a bipartisan group of lawmakers in the South Carolina Senate say McMaster can't appoint Condon on his own. Those Senate leaders sent letters to McMaster Monday telling him the position couldn't be filled under state law without legislative approval.
McMaster's push to insert Condon as the temporary chairman of Santee Cooper comes after state senators failed to approve him for the job full time earlier this year.
“South Carolina ratepayers simply can’t afford a leaderless Santee Cooper making a year's worth of decisions — especially at such a critical time in the utility’s history,” McMaster said. “As Santee Cooper’s future is studied and debated, I am confident that Mr. Condon’s leadership will result in a much-needed focus on transparency and accountability.”
McMaster nominated Condon for the job in March, but the legislative session ended in May without his confirmation clearing the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senators didn't take it up at all during last month's two-day special session.
It's unclear if McMaster will forge ahead with positioning Condon on the board in the face of the Senate's opposition.
Condon's possible ascension to Santee Cooper's 12-member governing board coincides with McMaster's attempts to generate enough political support to sell the utility. Last week, the governor appointed himself to a newly-formed committee in the Legislature tasked with examining the future of Santee Cooper, the only government-owned utility in the state.
Condon is likely to have his hands full once he is in place. Santee Cooper's board needs to decide how to manage roughly $8 billion in debt. Nearly half of that stems from the failed V.C. Summer nuclear project in Fairfield County that it co-owns with South Carolina Electric & Gas.
Santee Cooper's board also finds itself at the center of an ongoing lawsuit with the utility's largest customers — South Carolina's 20 electric cooperatives. The co-ops are seeking to stop Santee Cooper from charging their more than 788,000 customers for the two partially built nuclear reactors abandoned last July.