Showdown looming over leader of South Carolina-owned utility

July 24, 2018

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina’s governor and leaders of the state Senate appear to be heading over a showdown on who runs the state-owned utility saddled with billions of dollars of debt after investing in a pair of nuclear plants that were shuttered before producing any power.

State law requires the Senate to approve Gov. Henry McMaster’s choice to run the Santee Cooper board.

But since the Senate ended its session last month without voting on former state Attorney General Charlie Condon’s appointment, the Republican governor said he can now use a state law granting him the power to fill vacancies when the Senate is not in session.

But four state Senate leaders — three Republicans and a Democrat — pointed out in their own letter that the chairman position came open in December so McMaster’s power to appoint without Senate approval ended when lawmakers came back in January.

And some senators said the decision not to vote on Condon’s nomination was an intentional snub. Lawmakers have approved the appointment of new Santee Cooper Board member Charles Leaird since the Condon nomination.

“With Santee Cooper teetering into an uncertain future, we need a serious businessperson, preferably, someone who knows a thing or two about this industry,” said state Sen. Wes Climer, R-Rock Hill.

Santee Cooper is about $8 billion in debt after the decision by the utility and privately-owned SCANA Corp. and its subsidiary South Carolina Electric & Gas to stop a decade of planning and construction on two new nuclear reactors nearly a year ago.

The utility didn’t respond to a question about whether Condon was working Tuesday or how it would deal with the disagreement over who is running it.

The dispute over Condon’s appointment could end up in court, joining other disputed issues like whether the General Assembly overstepped its legal authority issuing a 15 percent rate cut to customers of the majority partner in the failed Nuclear reactors, SCANA Corp. and its subsidiary, South Carolina Electric & Gas.

McMaster has stared down legal threats before. The man who stepped down from Santee Cooper’s board in December, Leighton Lord, first sued McMaster after he demanded Lord step down, but later relented.

While the letter to McMaster from Republican Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Luke Rankin of Myrtle Beach is firm about rejecting Condon, it offers to help McMaster on a committee reviewing the future of Santee Cooper, including selling the utility, which is carrying around $8 billion in debt.

“The Senate is more than willing to work with you on issues related to Santee Cooper,” Rankin wrote in the letter also signed by Republican Senate President Pro Tem Hugh Leatherman of Florence, Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey of Edgefield and Senate Minority Leader Nikki Setzler of West Columbia.

McMaster’s response seems to show no room for compromise on Condon.

“Fortunately for Santee Cooper’s ratepayers, Mr. Condon has been appointed by the governor and commissioned by the secretary of state, and is the chairman of the board right now, McMaster’s spokesman Brian Symmes wrote in an email Tuesday.


Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP . Read his work at https://apnews.com/search/jeffrey%20collins .

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