Tradition serves us well when it guides and enriches us. Tradition is a liability when it holds us captive to a past that can’t serve our current and future needs. Pretty much sums up Santee Cooper – a company with a rich South Carolina tradition that now threatens to weaken the state economically if people cling to it for traditions’ sake.
Santee Cooper was forged out of the Great Depression. Did great things. But industry changed. Times changed. Though Santee Cooper did not move with the times.
It is a business story that happens. Ask Digital Computer, Blockbuster, TWA, or WorldCom. With these companies, customers could easily make a substitution. Not so with Santee Cooper because electric service is a necessity. A health and safety service.
Electricity is an increasingly complex and technical business. Ever more pressing on financial acuity, and the ability to respond quickly, accurately. What is needed is the antithesis of what has played out in the past several decades with Santee Cooper.
Now we face a severe recession if not, some say, maybe a depression. Santee Cooper is not up for the task. A self-reformation, especially in an increasingly fragile economic environment, is outside its skill set. Santee Cooper cannot recover from the tradition and culture of mismanagement that has been cultivated there through neglect as a state-owned but virtually unregulated utility.
Reform? Consider the years of legislative time required to monitor Santee Cooper behavior. A bureaucracy on a bureaucracy. That, in a state that leans toward smaller government and independence.
South Carolinians hoping to re-open and recover the economy deserve a utility adept in planning and executing a technically advanced, financially sound, reliable and safe electric system. No one has time or resources for babysitting bad behavior. Least of all for traditions’ sake.
Don’t be insular. If Santee Cooper knew what to do it and how to do it, it would have stepped up. It wouldn’t be in this mess. How many years of mismanagement and billions of dollars must be wasted before our leaders will realize that, this time, “tradition” is not serving their constituents well?
Again, time is critical. Years have passed since Santee Cooper’s problems have been raised, kicked down the road. How much more time passes before the inevitable change is up to the State of South Carolina. (One scenario to the right.)
Santee Cooper served its purpose in the Great Depression of the 1940s. But in the pandemic of 2020, South Carolina must recognize it is no longer up to the task.