From Scott Carlberg

“Arrogance and ambivalence” are two of the choice terms the South Carolina House Speaker used to describe Santee Cooper in an infamous letter where he made it clear the state-owned utility cannot be trusted. Speaker Lucas plainly said that if he had the power he would relieve Santee Cooper leaders of their positions. Clear, pointed talk.

Why remind everyone about the Speaker’s letters now? Because the letter is more relevant than ever. Here are two important issues.

Reform is a pipe dream.

The Speaker’s letter shows that Santee Cooper “reform” is a wish and a hope. That’s all. The behavior that got the state into this mess is too ingrained. It is habit. Reflexive as a way of work. The longer that nothing happens the happier Santee Cooper status quo advocates are.

The Speaker followed up with a request for real, verified data. We have not seen a response to the Speaker from Santee Cooper to date.

Think about that. The legislature should not have to remind a state organization that information has to be correct. This demonstrates how far down this road people have been led.

The financial environment is worsening.

Revenues at electric companies are being severely hit through the pandemic. Check a recent report from the National Rural Electric Cooperatives which said:

  • The impact of lost load and unpaid bills are projected to total $10 billion through 2022.
  • Electric cooperative operating revenues are expected to decline by $7.4 billion as electricity sales fall by 5% over the 2020-2022 period.
  • A surge in unemployment, combined with the effects of suspending disconnections, is expected to increase balances of unpaid bills to $2.6 billion through 2022.

Santee Cooper is operating in the same tough economy, too.

But, let’s just say … 

Let’s say that in the snap of the fingers the Santee Cooper board and management were relieved of the duties. Does removing management really accomplish anything for the consumer? With management gone, the debt remains. A lack of resources is still, well, lacking. Inaccurate communications are unchecked. An inability to plan and execute still exists.

The Speaker’s clearly stated letters leave no room for interpretation. For that he should be thanked. But since those letters the economy, and, it seems, Santee Cooper’s predicaments, are taking the next leg down.

The South Carolina Legislature has been warned. Millions spent on studies. A huge time investment, too. Do the huge investments support the status quo for Santee Cooper?

The Legislature holds the fiscal health of Santee Cooper’s customers in its hands. It holds the fiscal health of South Carolina in its hands even as it sees deteriorating conditions.

The Legislature should make the next step happen with Santee Cooper. Claim the moral leadership that puts action behind the words, behind the money and time spent. Make a decisive, real difference. Change Santee Cooper ownership, and add leadership, financial muscle, superb planning, tested and true experience to the utility.

Or, accept “arrogance and ambivalence.”

A sale is the only medicine that cures what ails Santee Cooper. Fast relief, too.