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SC lawmakers delay potential Santee Cooper sale decision until 2020

The South Carolina House and Senate reached a compromise to postpone the final decision regarding Santee Cooper's fate, after state lawmakers spent much of the 2019-2020 legislative session debating whether to sell or have another company manage the government-owned utility.

The House and Senate on May 21 overwhelmingly approved House Bill 4287, a joint resolution outlining guidance for the Department of Administration to establish a competitive bidding process for selling Santee Cooper, known legally as South Carolina Public Service Authority, and to consider management proposals designed to improve Santee Cooper's efficiency and cost-effectiveness that don't involve a sale of the utility. The department will need to evaluate bids and present a recommendation by Jan. 15, 2020, for the next state legislative session.

Bidders will need to include projections for rates, power generation and transmission investments over the next 20 years and an estimate of how many job cuts there would be within five years if they acquired Santee Cooper. The resolution is now on its way to Gov. Henry McMaster's desk for his signature.

Santee Cooper's fate has been in limbo while the government mulled selling the utility to pay off its debts and provide relief to customers, after canceling its V.C. Summer nuclear expansion project in 2017 amid the bankruptcy of then-primary contractor Westinghouse Electric Co. LLC.

Consulting firm ICF International, which was hired by the legislature, said in a Feb. 1 report that four companies, including at least two investor-owned utilities, submitted bids ranging from $7.9 billion to $9.2 billion for Santee Cooper. Duke Energy Corp. and NextEra Energy Inc. have confirmed they made bids.

Lawmakers also disagreed over who should have the final say over the utility's future. In March, South Carolina Senate President Harvey Peeler Jr. proposed giving McMaster authority to sell Santee Cooper, but House Speaker Jay Lucas and other lawmakers countered it with their own joint resolution to retain final say in the state legislature.