COLUMBIA — Gov. Henry McMaster plans to name former U.S. Attorney Peter McCoy to lead South Carolina's embattled state-owned utility Santee Cooper, according to Senate Republican leaders.
Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey said the governor told him about his decision in a phone call April 5.
"He's well-respected. I think it's a good pick," Massey, R-Edgefield, told The Post and Courier on April 6, adding he hopes McMaster makes the announcement soon to jump-start the confirmation process.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Luke Rankin said he too was informed of the decision by the governor's office.
Both McMaster's office and McCoy declined to comment on the possibility.
The Senate must confirm McMaster's choice. The State newspaper first reported McMaster's intention, citing sources familiar with calls to senators.
McCoy, a Charleston Republican, clearly has a smoother path than the governor's last pick, who senators rejected.
"I think he would be stable," Sen. Katrina Shealy, R-Lexington, said of McCoy. "He would think things through, not be one of the good ol' boys that they have had down there. I think he's a smart person."
Massey noted that McCoy has knowledge not just of utilities but specifically Santee Cooper as he led the House's investigation into the 2017 failure of the nuclear power plant expansion at the V.C. Summer in Fairfield County.
South Carolina Electric & Gas, the project’s majority owner, and Moncks Corner-based Santee Cooper jointly spent $9 billion before abruptly halting construction in July 2017.
After becoming U.S. attorney in March 2020, McCoy, the former House Judiciary chairman, led the prosecution of executives of Cayce-based SCANA Corp., SCE&G's parent company, which was sold to Dominion Energy about two years ago.
Like other Republican-appointed federal prosecutors, McCoy complied with the request of the Biden administration to step down. His Feb. 28 resignation came four days after former SCANA CEO Kevin Marsh pleaded guilty for covering up major flaws in the V.C. Summer project while the utility continued charging ratepayers for the costs.
Senate President Harvey Peeler, R-Gaffney, said he didn't want to get ahead of McMaster's announcement.
But "if it is him, it's an excellent choice," he said of McCoy. "He brings to the table a wisdom and a work ethic and a proven trusted relationship with the General Assembly, something that Santee Cooper's needed for quite some time."
Senate Transportation Chairman Larry Grooms, whose district includes Santee Cooper, praised McCoy as a "well-respected colleague who possesses extraordinary insight into the electric utility business in South Carolina.
"I applaud the governor for selecting someone who will have a great interest in protecting ratepayers and taxpayers as Santee Cooper enters into a new era of transparency and reform," said the utility's chief defender in the Legislature.
McMaster is making his pick as it becomes increasingly apparent the Legislature won't take the governor's advice to sell Santee Cooper after its $4 billion share of the fiasco.
If Santee Cooper remains under state ownership, appointing a new chairman is one way McMaster can reassert control of the utility.
McMaster has repeatedly labeled Santee Cooper a "rogue agency" that lost $4 billion of ratepayers' money on a power plant that was never finished and then fought to prevent its own sale by state lawmakers.
Santee Cooper has been without a permanent chairman since McMaster pushed former chair Leighton Lord to resign in December 2017 over his handling of the nuclear debacle.
In June 2018, McMaster appointed former S.C. Attorney General Charlie Condon, a political ally, to the job. But senators sued to block Condon's off-session appointment, arguing they hadn't confirmed the Charleston Republican to lead the utility. The state Supreme Court sided with McMaster, but in 2019 the governor withdrew Condon's name after a Senate panel rejected him.
Since then, investment banker Dan Ray of Georgetown has led Santee Cooper as acting chairman.