July 28, 2017 marked the debut of the Charlize Theron action flick, Atomic Blonde, what one critic called the best action movie of the summer. A blockbuster movie. Three days later, in South Carolina, Santee Cooper and SCANA officials announced they were throwing in the towel on the then-under construction nuclear plant at VC Summer. Atomic Blonde went on to net $70 million in profit. VC Summer would ensnare South Carolina ratepayers in billions in debt, still owed today. A blockbuster financial problem.
That was three years ago, and much has changed since then (although Theron continues to make movies while VC Summer’s new plants continue to make nothing). ECC has been covering Santee Cooper and the VC Summer “atomic blockbuster” for the past three years.
Out of a wave of nostalgia, we thought we’d look back at some of the media coverage of the issue and see “where are they now?”
SCANA: Sold to Dominion Energy as part of the reconciliation of the issue.
The Lawyers: Received $9 million from Santee Cooper in 2018 alone to defend current and former executives. Remember, Santee Cooper’s money comes solely from customers. (Source)
Former Santee Cooper CEO: The executive who presided over the VC Summer fiasco retired and is receiving $344, 572 for life from the state retirement system and an additional $455,192 yearly for the next 20 years, a retirement package totaling more than $16 million. (Source) (Source)
The Lawyers (Again): Attorneys involved in litigation against Santee Cooper will collect $78 million in cash from a settlement. (Source)
Santee Cooper Ratepayers face loads of corporate debt. They have to pay off approximately $6,200 over the next forty years to pay Santee Cooper’s debt for the failed project. The debt gets them nothing in return.
New Santee Cooper Executives: Santee Cooper imported Arizonan Mark Bonsall and gave him a record $1.1 million salary. That makes Bonsall America’s highest paid public utility executive. Deputy CEO Charlie Duckworth, also of Arizona, is paid $560,000 plus $165,000 in performance bonuses. (Source)
South Carolina Economy: Due to the pandemic, economists predict a $49.3 billion reduction in South Carolina economic activity. State tax revenues have already plunged more than $520 million. A slowing economy and people out of work means a decline in utility revenue, too – making Santee Cooper’s fiscal health look even shakier. (Source)
Car leasing Companies: Santee Cooper gives 21 executives thousands of dollars of stipends per month for executive cars – spending at least $190,000 on stipends in 2018 alone. Reminder: Santee Cooper pays their CEO $1.1 million, and the company more than $7 billion in debt. (Source)
Santee Cooper’s Board of Directors: The Post and Courier reported in 2019 that: “the utility’s directors took 18 weekend trips over the course of three years, ordering more than 2,000 catered meals.” They also forgot to fill out state ethics forms and have no idea how much state money they wasted on their vacations (hint: more than $5,000 per trip).
Legislators: South Carolina lawmakers continue to struggle with making a decision about what to do with the utility they own that’s drowning in debt and lavish executive compensation and perks. There’s an offer on the table to buy Santee Cooper by NextEra, which runs the largest utility in Florida that is consistently ranked one of the best in the world. NextEra will pay off the debt, protecting customers from higher bills…but legislators can’t seem to let go of Santee Cooper and their mismanagement – no matter how much it will cost customers.
Santee Cooper: The state-owned utility continues to operate with no oversight from any regulatory committee, with free reign for its Board of Directors to raise rates.
Remember when Ronald Reagan famously asked “Are you better off today than you were four years ago?” Perhaps it is time to ask, with regard to Santee Cooper, “Are we better off than three years ago?” The lawyers are. Former executives are.
Unfortunately, the ratepayers and others are still stuck. It’s time to sell – and let South Carolina be free of this epic summer disaster movie, before another anniversary rolls around.