Should utility customers know what is happening with the company where they buy power? Should owners and investors in a utility have a clear and comprehensive explanation of the company’s finances and strategy?
So here is something to check, and perhaps use as a benchmark for Santee Cooper customers and the State of South Carolina.
Friday, July 24 – something happened with the company that has made an offer to buy Santee Cooper. The company is NextEra Energy, headquartered in Florida. In a regular financial call, executives made comments and answered questions.
Who? The Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of NextEra Energy, Chief Financial Officer, President and Chief Executive Officer of NextEra Energy Resources, Executive Vice President of NextEra Energy – company officers – and President and Chief Executive Officer of Florida Power & Light Company.
There was a presentation, webcast, call. Real time. Financial reports were shown. Investors could ask questions. The press could ask questions. Real time. They did, too. Those questions got answered. You can even see a transcript of the financial call, here.
Have people seen that kind of openness with Santee Cooper?
The short answer is no. Santee Cooper does not have quarterly meetings where they are answerable to stockholders and analysts about the previous quarter’s results.
The long answer is no, too. Santee Cooper, as an unregulated state-owned monopoly, is really not answerable to anyone but its Board of Directors – and when the questions about the utility’s performance get tough – as they have a lot in the past several years as their plans keep failing – the Board goes behind closed doors. No online record of those discussions. No transcripts.
Even when the legislature asks questions, Santee Cooper doesn’t answer. Here’s Speaker of the House Jay Lucas in a letter to Santee Cooper after hearings in Columbia this spring:
“Attempting to have an open, honest, and productive conversation with Santee Cooper has been exceedingly difficult and disappointing. It has become my experience and the experience of House leadership and staff that the representations made by Santee Cooper Board members, leadership and staff are not reliable.
“…Santee Cooper…has chosen to behave as a rogue entity, seeking to satisfy its own priorities rather than those of ratepayers, taxpayers and the State of South Carolina.”
The contrast could not be clearer. NextEra takes calls to answer questions about its performance. It sets a standard. Santee Cooper gets called on the carpet for its evasions.
After billions of dollars of losses, the people of South Carolina deserve more financial accountability. They’ll get it with an investor-owned utility like NextEra. They will not – and have not – gotten it from the “rouge entity” Santee Cooper.