COLUMBIA — Gov. Henry McMaster is considering firing the Santee Cooper board if the state-run utility does not turn over a consultant's report on the now-cancelled Fairfield County nuclear plant expansion.

McMaster said in a letter sent Saturday to Santee Cooper's general counsel that not surrendering the secret report "will constitute malfeasance," a term that would allow the governor to fire directors of the Moncks Corner-based electricity provider.

The governor was responding to Santee Cooper's refusal to hand over the report over concerns that revealing legal secrets could harm the potential sale of the state-run utility and lead to a lawsuit by Santee Cooper's partner in the failed nuclear project, S.C. Electric & Gas.

Both utilities have been sued by ratepayers over their bill payments covering the $9 billion spent on the project before it was abandoned in July. Releasing the consultant's report, prepared by San Francisco-based Bechtel, could lift legal protection for all documents related to the construction project, Santee Cooper Chief Counsel Michael Baxley wrote McMaster on Friday.

Baxley suggested taking the matter to court where a judge would rule what documents could be released and what documents should remain secret.

McMaster sternly rejected that proposal Saturday, asserting that as governor he had a right to the report from a state agency despite any concerns about privacy from investor-owned S.C. Electric & Gas.

"I will not delay action by allowing SCE&G's concerns to impede my constitutional authority to fully evaluate this problem and pursue potential solutions," McMaster wrote. The governor also called for S.C. Electric and Gas to release the report that was requested to examine the troubled construction project in Jenkinsville.

McMaster is trying to sell all or part of Santee Cooper in the wake of the nuclear plant debacle. He met with potential buyers at the Governor's Mansion on Saturday, his office said.

Baxley was responding to a demand from McMaster sent Thursday to Santee Cooper Chairman Leighton Lord to release the Bechtel report, which also has been requested by special S.C. House and Senate panels probing the failed nuclear project. The report has not been released publicly.

Efforts to reach Lord on Saturday were not successful. Santee Cooper Chief Executive Lonnie Carter retired last month in the wake of the nuclear project's failure. The utility board is appointed by the governor.

The plan to add two reactors at the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station faltered after the project's main contractor filed for bankruptcy protection. In addition, the total cost for completing the reactors had doubled to more than $20 billion.

Abandoning the construction work led to laying off more than 5,000 workers and has left ratepayers across much of the state liable for covering the costs of the unfinished project.

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Columbia Bureau Chief

Shain is Columbia Bureau Chief for The Post and Courier. He was editor of Free Times and was a reporter and editor at The State, The Charlotte Observer and The (Myrtle Beach) Sun News.