From Bea Wray

Last week, South Carolina’s Club for Growth released a survey conducted by Cloud Research out of Dublin, Ohio entitled “Survey of South Carolina Electricity Ratepayers.”

It could have been called “In the Dark.”

With the state news dominating the subject of SCANA and Santee Cooper’s nuclear power debacle and associated costs, I thought this would issue some interesting results. And did it ever, but not in the way I thought. Turns out, many people are ‘in the dark’ when it comes to electricity in South Carolina, what has happened, what may happen and what is Santee Cooper!

Santee Cooper is South Carolina’s state-owned electric and water utility that came into being during the 1930’s. This New Deal public works project cleared large tracts of land and created two lakes while building hydro-electric dams and power.

The telephone survey was conducted September 26-October 1, 2018 and 804 electrical ratepayers in South Carolina participated. It contained 12 questions regarding electricity suppliers and issues relating to Santee Cooper with a +/- 3.45 percent margin of error. Taking all that into account, of the 804 people who responded to the survey, 12 percent reported that they receive their power from Santee Cooper directly. Additionally, 73 percent of them said they receive their power from SCE&G, Duke Energy, or an electricity co-op (which is to say indirectly from Santee Cooper). And 13 percent were not sure who provided their power.

Here is what was most interesting: 56 percent of respondents were not familiar with the state-owned utility Santee Cooper. That means many people (many who get their power from Santee Cooper!) were not even aware of them, even though they may be on the hook for billions of dollars of debt.

Also interesting, 46 percent of Santee Cooper’s customers, either directly or through the co ops, said they were unfamiliar with the nuclear project fiasco. Incredible! That means more than half of the Santee Cooper customers surveyed are in the dark about this big issue that directly impacts them. And if they are unaware, what about everyone else? How can this be?

Nevertheless, 48 percent answered “yes” to the question, “Are you familiar with the failed V.C. Summer Nuclear project in Jenkinsville, South Carolina – a joint partnership of Santee Cooper and South Carolina Electric & Gas (SCE&G) to build two new nuclear power plants, which was shut down because of cost overruns and mismanagement?” Does that mean that at least some people were familiar with the story or saw a headline but may not understand it’s impact? I personally believe that people read a headline and recognize a story, but perhaps they think it is connected to “other” people, not themselves. What do you think?

The survey goes on to ask about the debt specifically and states “Santee Cooper has over $4.5 billion in debt related to the failed V.C. Summer project, and $4 billion more in debt beyond that – Santee Cooper will eventually have to raise electricity rates to pay off that debt or seek a bailout from taxpayers.”

According to this, rates then will have to go up further than the roughly 18 percent we have already seen, which is what I have been hearing and reading. Do we really know how much we will be obligated to pay and for how long? These are the questions that wake me up! Will my teenage children be paying off this debt if Santee Cooper is not sold or reorganized by the state somehow to account for the nearly $8 billion? Key findings of this survey say that Santee Cooper customers will have to pay an additional $13 per month for the next 40 years for a total of $6,200 for each on top of the $540 million we already paid. Wow!

So it is not surprising that after the survey participants learned about Santee Cooper’s finances that 55.3 percent supported a sale to a private company.

The survey did a good job addressing some of the issues I have been reading and learning about but there is still so much more to know and understand.

My suggestion is access the entire report from SC Club for Growth and Clout Research  and look for answers to your questions.  What would your answers have been to the survey? Do you know who your electricity provider is and how it could be costing you?

Don’t be in the dark.