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Last summer, the state Department of Administration began the process of accepting bids to buy or manage some or all of Santee Cooper. State lawmakers will be deciding on what to do with the debt-riddled, state-owned utility as soon as January 15. In response, Santee Cooper released its business forecast and newest set of initiatives in what the utility claims to be an effort to pay down the debt without increasing customer’s rates.
Before this forecast was publically released, it was leaked that Santee Cooper was in talks with Georgia based Southern Company in a cost-sharing agreement. Lawmakers and the governer’s office quickly shot down any chance of this plan happening, even threatening to remove board members that voted in favor of the plan.
Santee Cooper quickly abandoned the plan and announced the most recent business forecast including a five-year rate freeze after saying for months rates would increase by at least 7 percent to pay back the more than $7 billion of debt the utility faces, $4 billion of it from the failed V.C. Summer project.
Wayne Mershan, a Murrells Inlet resident, wrote to the South Strand News regarding the forecast’s plan to move to solar and natural gas energy sources. While Mershon acknowledges the need for a transition to solar and natural gas he asks, “How will it be possible to make these necessary improvements when it has over $7 billion in debt? How are they going to accomplish their sustainability goals and get out of debt at the same time without raising rates again?”
It is clear residents are suspicious of how valid Santee Cooper’s most recent forecast actually is. A forecast that includes a five-year rate freeze and a transition to more sustainable energy sources, all while being able to pay down the debt.
This set of initiatives is leaving customers and South Carolina residents wondering, what will happen to rates after five years? Who will pay for these transitions to solar and natural gas considering the infrastructure is not currently in place? And, what will happen to the debt while all of these transitions are taking place?