Customers. Remember that word. As South Carolina news headlines echo about electric projects and who used to be, or is now in charge, what was getting built, but now is not, the customers are still out there tapping and paying for a necessary service for their daily lives.
What is best for customers in the long run? The SCANA side will sort itself out through a business process. Because it is owned by the State of South Carolina, the Santee Cooper side also has to navigate a legislative process. (A change of hands in Santee Cooper requires legislative action.) An added layer.
A base question could be about the role of a state government in the electric industry. The state regulatory role of an investor owned utility is well established for the public benefit. All part of a check-and-balance. Well understood, but it is not in the same role for Santee Cooper.
The state as the utility? Santee Cooper has about 170,000 retail customers, its power generators are responsible for supplying the electricity used by more than 2 million South Carolinians.
In 1934, Santee Cooper was established by the state as a “rural electrification and public works project.” As South Carolina struggled to climb out of the Great Depression, it was a noble undertaking and wise move for state government. This deserves to be a particular point of pride.
Has that role morphed? Today the utility industry has increasing and sensitive environmental, legal, risk analysis and financial angles, particularly in power generation. Older coal units are retiring, and new natural gas units are taking their place. Renewable energy sources are becoming more efficient and reliable. Result: Generating companies have a growing set of options to supply customers.
Businesses in general adapt swiftly to strategically add new value to the economy. This includes utilities. Organizations hone core competencies for highly strategic, nimble responsiveness. In energy, it can be evaluating the right generation for the future, or delivering amazing best customer service in the age of amazon.com.
As changes are debated about Santee Cooper, is this a transition time for state officials to ask if any state government has as a core skill – or mission – the production of electric energy, in the mission to serve people?