Two T&D Region lawmakers have been appointed to a nine-member committee that will study the possible sale of state-owned utility Santee Cooper.
Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, and Rep. Russell Ott, D-St. Matthews, have been appointed to the committee.
“I’m willing to serve on the study committee, which means I am going to be open-minded about the information that comes to us,” Hutto said.
“Having lived here all of my life, I know what Santee Cooper means to this region. My first impression is why would we sell it, how would you really put a value on it? But I think we all have to be open to suggestions and considerate,” he said.
The committee has four members from the House and four from the Senate. Gov. Henry McMaster appointed himself to the committee earlier this week.
Republican Sens. Paul Campbell, Tom Davis and Larry Grooms and Reps. Russell Fry, Murrell Smith and Peter McCoy make up the rest of the committee.
Campbell served on the company’s board and Hutto, an attorney, is representing the 20 electric cooperatives in their lawsuit against Santee Cooper.
The state-owned utility accumulated $4 billion in debt after the failed V.C. Summer nuclear project with SCE&G.
The committee is tasked with looking at 37 areas and whether or not it would make sense for the state to consider selling Santee Cooper, Hutto said.
Hutto spoke about the impact the company has on communities in Orangeburg County.
“Being in a county that borders one of the Santee Cooper lakes, Lake Marion, the water we get from the lake is very important,” Hutto said.
“Tri-County Co-op and Edisto Co-op get power from Santee Cooper generation, and then we’ve got Santee -- the tourism that comes from the lakes,” he said.
“The fishing, the boating, the recreation, and people’s homes and/or vacation homes. All of that’s involved in what makes up Santee Cooper, so it’s not just an issue about electric power, it’s more than that.”
Hutto said, “We’ll be looking at all of those things and have to make a determination of what would happen if we tried to change a public power company into a power company that’s owned by a private power company.”
Ott said that he is open to new ideas.
“I’m going into this process with an open mind. I’m trying not to bring any preconceived notions with me into it,” Ott said. “I’m hoping that the rest of the committee doesn’t bring preconceived notions with them.”
McMaster has publicly supported the idea of selling Santee Cooper. Ott said he hopes that McMaster’s stance on the issue doesn’t interfere with the decision-making of the committee.
“Unfortunately, the governor is also running for re-election. I certainly hope that election politics doesn’t play into the positions that he’ll ultimately take,” Ott said.
“I think it’s highly unusual that the governor has appointed himself to this legislative committee, but I welcome his input. I just hope that he goes into it with the best interest at heart,” Ott said.
“This is too important of a decision, this is too important of an undertaking that we’ve been tasked with to allow politics to play into the decision making.”
Ott believes that the committee must consider several issues.
“We have to look at what is in the best interest of our state first, we have to look at what is in the best interest of the ratepayers, we have to look at what’s best for employees of Santee Cooper, we have to look at what’s in the best interest of job creation and economic development, and then finally we just have to figure out what’s best for our future energy plant,” Ott said.
“Those are a lot of very large intangibles and variables that are going to go into this process,” Ott said.
Ott also recognized the importance of Santee Cooper.
“I certainly am a supporter of Santee Cooper. I know the value that Santee Cooper has brought to our state in the past through economic development and jobs, and obviously the close relationship with co-ops,” Ott said.
But he said the committee also must consider what transpired with the failed V.C. Summer nuclear project.
Ott believes the V.C. Summer debacle was due to “a lot of mismanagement.”
“We can’t turn back the clock on that, and so we’ve got to deal with it,” Ott said. “What I’m just excited about is being able to be a part of the process that can hopefully get us out of this mess that we find ourselves in.”
“We’ve got to stay focused on the best interest of the people that we represent. And not just now, today, but we’ve got to be able to look decades down the road,” Ott said.