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S Carolina lawmakers set rules for state-owned utility sale

November 14, 2018

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina lawmakers are ready to hear formal bids from anyone who wants to buy state-owned utility Santee Cooper.

A committee reviewing the possible sale approved a list of factors that they will consider, with the most important being the impact on electric rates.

Gov. Henry McMaster and some lawmakers want to sell Santee Cooper after the failure of a nuclear project in Fairfield County last year. The utility has $8 billion in debt, much of it from the reactor project, which never generated power. Lawmakers said any buyer must take on that debt, Republican state Sen. Paul Campbell of Goose Creek said.

About two dozen groups have inquired about buying Santee Cooper, although not all of them are serious, Campbell said.

Among those showing interest are the 20 electric cooperatives across the state who buy their power from Santee Cooper, said Mike Couick, CEO of the Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina.

The committee set a mid-January deadline for offers, but emphasized they have not made any decision on whether to sell or not.

Other criteria lawmakers will consider when weighing offers are whether a buyer will continue operations in Moncks Corner or nearby, whether it plans to retain current employees, its experience operating utilities and what would happen to employee pensions.

Also being factored is what Santee Cooper assets a buyer wants. The utility owns Lake Moultrie and Lake Marion, as well as 34 public recreation sites, 25,500 acres of forest and 11,700 acres of land set aside as wildlife habitat.

The state could take over some of those assets, Campbell said.

Consulting firm ICF, hired by lawmakers, will consider and evaluate the proposals and determine the value of Santee Cooper’s assets.

But whether to sell the utility rests under state law only with the General Assembly.

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