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SC House lawmakers counter Senate plan on Santee Cooper sale

The fight over who should have the final say in the sale of Santee Cooper is heating up with South Carolina House Speaker Jay Lucas backing a bill that keeps the decision with the full legislature, not the governor.

Lucas and a handful of lawmakers in the South Carolina House of Representatives on March 21 introduced a joint resolution that counters a proposal introduced March 20 in the state Senate.

House Bill 4287 authorizes the Public Service Authority Evaluation and Recommendation Committee to "receive and approve" a final contractual offer for Santee Cooper, known legally as South Carolina Public Service Authority.

The special committee in the South Carolina General Assembly was formed in July 2018 to evaluate the sale of the state-owned water and electric utility.

Lawmakers in the South Carolina House of Representatives argue the special committee should be allowed to complete the next steps in its evaluation. "Accordingly, the General Assembly by this act authorizes the committee to receive a best and final offer for the consideration by the General Assembly," the bill states.

A day earlier, South Carolina Senate President Harvey Peeler Jr. introduced a joint resolution, Senate Bill 678, which would allow Gov. Henry McMaster to have the authority to pick the winning bidder.

McMaster has pursued the sale and privatization of Santee Cooper since the July 2017 abandonment of the more than $9 billion V.C. Summer nuclear expansion project.

The battle over the sale comes after Fairfax, Va.-headquartered ICF International Inc., retained by the committee as part of the evaluation process, said in a Feb. 1 report that it received "robust" interest in acquiring or managing Santee Cooper from a variety of private and public entities.

The firm further evaluated four companies, including at least two investor-owned utilities, which submitted bids ranging from $7.9 billion to $9.2 billion to acquire Santee Cooper and help alleviate its debt obligations.

Peeler argues the committee has done its job and it's time to take the decision out of the legislature's hands. Backers of the House resolution see it differently and believe the committee should be allowed to "evaluate the current bids and receive a best and final written contractual offer to purchase all assets and assume or satisfy all liabilities of Santee Cooper."

Charlotte, N.C.-headquartered Duke Energy Corp. on Jan. 15 confirmed it submitted a bid for the utility, while Juno Beach, Fla.-based NextEra Energy Inc. also has made it official.

Richmond, Va.-headquartered Dominion Energy Inc., a potential bidder for Santee Cooper, offered significant rate concessions to customers impacted by the nuclear abandonment in its acquisition of South Carolina utility SCANA Corp.

Lucas and fellow lawmakers seek similar protections for Santee Cooper's customers.

"The purchaser must covenant and agree to provide meaningful rate relief in the form of reduced short-term and long-term rates for all customer classes," the resolution states.