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COLUMBIA (AP) — Four of the 15 offers made to buy South Carolina's state-owned utility met all the criteria set by the consultant lawmakers hired to review the bids.

Three of the offers would pay off Santee Cooper's $8 billion of debt, much of it coming from two failed nuclear reactors, according to the report from consultant ICF.

The report did not identify the potential buyers or give details on the offers. A panel of lawmakers will study the bids this upcoming week.

About half the offers were to take over Santee Cooper. Others offered to sell power on behalf of the utility or manage its plants, media outlets reported.

ICF said it would only OK deals to buy all of Santee Cooper from firms that offered to buy the entire utility, had good credit ratings, at least five years of experience in the electric industry and would pay off or assume all Santee Cooper's debt.

A special panel of lawmakers will review all the deals and make recommendations. The entire General Assembly must approve any sale.

But lawmakers aren't the only group that gets a say on selling Santee Cooper and its potential buyers. South Carolina's electric co-ops buy 60 percent of Santee Cooper's electricity and their contract allows the co-ops to end the deal if they don't like the new owners.

Gov. Henry McMaster has backed the sale of Santee Cooper since shortly after construction stopped in 2017 on two nuclear plants the state-owned utility was building with private South Carolina Electric & Gas. He said the report should remove any obstacles to selling the utility.

"This is a historic moment. There is no longer any significant reason to delay action needed to solve the Santee Cooper crisis," McMaster said in a statement. "I ask that members of the General Assembly objectively review this report and place the interest of our state's ratepayers and taxpayers first and those of the naysayers last."

State Sen. Larry Grooms, a Republican whose district includes Santee Cooper's headquarters in Moncks Corner, issued a statement hours before the report was released.

"The report confirms what everyone already knew," Grooms said. "Sure, there are folks willing to buy Santee Cooper, but as the report points out, a sale would be of questionable value to customers and of no value to taxpayers of South Carolina. There's nothing new here."

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