So, the folks at NextEra Energy evidently have a better-than-passing familiarity with the plot of "The Godfather."
The Florida-based power company’s bid to buy Santee Cooper seems to settle all family business: It would retire the state-owned utility’s debt, resolve a lawsuit over charges for those unfinished nuclear plants, refund 1.7 million customers the cash they previously dropped into that money pit … and give the state $615 million.
Yes, NextEra made state lawmakers an offer they can’t refuse.
Gov. Henry McMaster has already endorsed the company’s plan as the best of three proposals chosen by a team of consultants hired to explore options for Santee Cooper’s future. And state legislators, who make the final call, can’t help but be tempted.
After all, this deal gives them what they’ve wanted for more than two years: It absolves some South Carolina residents of their debt for the failed V.C. Summer nuclear plant, which has had their constituents in perpetual meltdown.
But there’s always a “but.” Here there are several, including that part about absolving “some” residents of unsolicited debt.
First, as state Sen. Larry Grooms notes, customers who get their power from Santee Cooper or the 20 electric co-ops it supplies will pay more for electricity from a private company.
“I think we spent $20 million ... to say what I was saying last year — if we sell Santee Cooper, rates will be higher,” Grooms, R-Bonneau, told The Post and Courier’s Andrew Brown and Avery G. Wilks.
Yeah, seems like others have suggested that would be the case. State-owned utilities are far from ideal, but they do have one advantage: They don’t have dividend-hungry shareholders to feed.
Santee Cooper did its self-preservation no favors by offering a restructuring plan that didn't address the outstanding lawsuit or explain who pays the remaining $3.6 billion V.C. Summer debt. That omerta could be a fatal omission.
Dominion Energy, which offered the third proposal — let the state keep Santee Cooper and they'll run it for “cost” — isn't an option. Lawmakers are already sore at the Virginia-based company, which has been nothing but a Statehouse headache since it bought South Carolina Electric & Gas.
And that brings us to the unspoken problem with the NextEra proposal. Besides, you know, $161 million in higher electricity rates, a massive layoff of Santee Cooper employees and the fact that the state basically ends up with nothing to show for an entire utility company.
Funny how "too good to be true" is often just that.
But there's another, more political, problem here. See, when the Legislature allowed Dominion to buy SCE&G parent company SCANA, the original offer included a refund to SCE&G’s duped customers for at least some of those fraudulent nuclear charges. Which stand at about $2,000 each ... and counting. Those payoffs never came.
In fact, 700,000-plus ratepayers scattered from Charleston to north of Columbia are on the hook to continue paying the accumulated bills of V.C. Summer for the next 20 years.
How do you think they are going to feel if the Legislature cuts a deal that saves their neighbors from that fate?
At the very least, Dominion customers are going to be outraged all over again, especially when Dominion tries to raise their electricity rates in a few months.
Perhaps those Dominion customers will start asking uncomfortable questions about why the Legislature didn’t insist on a better deal for them.
Mind you, this isn’t about begrudging Santee Cooper customers anything. They shouldn’t have to pay to clean up someone else's mess. But neither should former SCE&G customers.
Lawmakers at the time said they could do no better. Now, well, looks like they could have done a little better.
Officials can tell sore Dominion customers this is just business, it's not personal. After all, the state could lose a valuable asset with nothing to show for it other than an absence of liability it shouldn't have had in the first place.
But Dominion customers don't even have that luxury. They will continue to pay for the mistakes of others who escaped on golden parachutes.
So, if lawmakers eventually decide NextEra’s proposal is an offer they can’t refuse, they'd better find a way to let Dominion customers wet their beaks.
Otherwise, the only people left holding this bag may decide they have their own family business to settle come election night.