The Charleston Post and Courier ran a pointed editorial Saturday, January 11: 6 ways the SC Legislature can make our state better in 2020. Interesting list, good level-set launching into 2020.
Two parts of that editorial go hand-in-hand ECC thinks. The editorial says to settle the Santee Cooper issue and, “Meet our obligations.”
Holding Santee Cooper accountable for its decisions has been years in the making. Its looming debt casts a shadow on citizens for years to come unless the legislature acts. It is not time to stumble. The P&C clearly notes the options, first, “South Carolina should sell Santee Cooper if that will result in the most reliable and clean energy and the lowest electricity rates — not just next year but for decades to come.”
What’s next? The South Carolina Legislature will decide on proposals about Santee Cooper – sale, management contract, allow Santee Cooper to say it will reform itself.
Will policymakers vote to sell the utility, eliminate the debt, and add financial strength and talent to the entity?
Or will the legislature say they are fine with customers carrying the debt and add little value in strategy and operations to the company?
ECC would add this advice for the legislature: Do your own homework on this decision. Get input from experts who can say with certainty what energy transitions can happen, the real benefit of investor-owned accounting rules, benefits of real oversight from the state versus a private board, and the reality of the billions in debt – how much extra accumulates from carrying the debt (past and in the future), and what an average customer pays for no new power.
Is it wise to rely on those who have not delivered in the past?
On the issue of “Meet our obligations,” the editorial lists varied important issues within South Carolina. On a state budget of some $10 billion ECC notes that Santee Cooper owes in excess of $7 billion. While the Santee Cooper bill is not due entirely in 2020, this shows the magnitude of the obligation and how deep the hole is for the utility.
As lawmakers look at the Santee Cooper issue, consider the utility’s obligation and how a sale of the utility can clean up the $7 billion in debt. Just like that.
If a decision is not made to clean up the debt, citizens ought to expect absolute clarity on the ultimate cost of the extension of the debt on a state and customer basis. That debt extension would be on the legislature’s scorecard.
The South Carolina Legislature can take decisive action. On the campaign trail policymakers note their ability to make good decisions. Kicking the can down the road on Santee Cooper would not reflect confident, reasoned decision-making. The sale of Santee Cooper is a litmus test for policymakers’ ability to protect consumers, state finances, and set the business of state government back on track.
All utilities face a future of monumental change. Technology, finance, and talent are part of a race to serve customers well. Settling Santee Cooper’s future and meeting obligations matter. 2020 can be the time when customers of Santee Cooper start fresh, not in the hole that can linger for years. Ideally, customers will not need to keep their checkbooks handy to maintain the status quo versus move forward.