Featured Image: The State
As debt continues to pile up for Santee Cooper, lawmakers still remain halted at their decision for the future of the state-owned utility company. After lawmakers were forced to take a break earlier this year due to COVID-19, the utility’s fate will linger even longer.
With the decision to sell still on the table, Santee Cooper in an attempt to continue reform plans is spending more ratepayer money on extending high-paying contracts to executives and on golf tournament sponsorships.
The company recently announced that they will be extending contracts to Mark Bonsall, the CEO, and Charles Duckworth, the deputy CEO who were both brought on last year after former CEO, Lonnie Carter retired from the company when the utility’s debt began making headlines. Carter left with an initial payout and an annual retirement salary of $800,000 for 20 years, that Santee Cooper customers are still paying for.
Last year we reported that Bonsall was guaranteed $1.1 million over the next 18 months in addition to bonuses, exceeding Carter’s previous salary of $541,000, while Duckworth made a reported $560,000 annual salary. All of which the utility’s direct serve and electric cooperative customers pay for, and it doesn’t look like it’ll be changing anytime soon. The two will remain with the company until July 2021 and will continue to oversee all political and legal challenges. Bonsall and Duckworth will even have the opportunity to earn bonuses, pending their performance.
Lawmakers have been debating the future of the company for the past three years since it undertook $4 billion in debt from the failed V.C. Summer project. Because of this, Santee Cooper has been under scrutiny with where they spend their money since the company’s debt is nearly $7 billion, has no Public Service Commission Oversight and its ratepayers are the only ones responsible for past bad financial decisions. Many, therefore, are not happy that the state-owned company decided to sponsor the Heritage Golf Tournament for yet another year. The tournament which was played 2 months later due to the coronavirus pandemic and without fans, was a large investment. This large expenditure is seen as unnecessary by many and has resulted in another level of concern with taxpayers and ratepayers.
As customers are left holding the bill for the interim and Santee Cooper fails to acknowledge the long term burden on them, they also fail to stop spending large sums of money that will only add to the already existing and growing debt. For some, a sale of the public utility “dinosaur” cannot come soon enough.