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Santee Cooper chief to retire following failure of nuclear project

Energy
Chuck Crumbo
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Leighton Lord, chairman of the Santee Cooper board, tells reporters that Lonnie Carter was not pressured to retire because the utility and SCE&G abandoned the new reactor project at V.C. Summer Nuclear Station. (Photo/Chuck Crumbo)

Santee Cooper chief Lonnie Carter is retiring, less than a month after the state-owned power company and partner S.C. Electric & Gas Co. abandoned construction of two reactor units at the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station in Fairfield County.

Carter had previously told the Santee Cooper board he planned to retire after the two 1,117-megawatt units were completed, board chairman Leighton Lord said. Now that the project has been shelved after the utilities spent $9 billion on it, Carter opted to follow through with retirement.

Carter

Lawmakers have called for wholesale changes in the leadership of state agencies and the utilities involved in the Summer project. Carter is the first CEO to leave, though Lord said Carter was not pressured to quit.

On Wednesday, House Speaker Jay Lucas called for the resignation of Dukes Scott, executive director of the Office of Regulatory Staff, which has oversight of investor-owned utilities like SCE&G. Gov. Henry McMaster rejected the suggestion that Scott should quit.

Carter will stay on as president and CEO until an interim appointment is made and will help in the search for a permanent successor, Lord said. Carter also will be available to testify before legislative committees investigating the failed project as well as working with McMaster, who hopes to revive it, Lord said.

“The board accepts Lonnie’s decision to retire with great respect and admiration for all that he has done during his career,” Lord said at a special meeting at the offices of Nexsen Pruet law firm in Columbia, where Lord is chairman. “Lonnie has had a positive influence on Santee Cooper, our customers and the state of South Carolina, thanks to the many innovations and accomplishments we achieved with his guidance.”

Carter joined the Moncks Corner-based public utility in 1982, shortly after graduating from The Citadel with bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Named president and CEO in 2004, Carter has also served as manager of corporate forecasting, vice president of corporate forecasting and senior vice president of customer service.

Lord credited Carter with helping South Carolina land the new Volvo Car USA assembly plant being built in Berkeley County, which is expected to employ 2,000 people initially and 4,000 over time.

Carter renegotiated an agreement with Central Electric Power Cooperative, Santee Cooper’s largest customer, providing multibillion-dollar cost savings for ratepayers through 2058.

Lord also cited Carter’s work in “launching economic development incentive programs that benefit all 46 counties of South Carolina.”

Carter, who attended the meeting, declined to comment beyond a prepared statement, thanking the board, employees and his family for their support.

“Working with the talented, dedicated employees of Santee Cooper has been a wonderful career,” Carter said. “Having the opportunity to be a part of a great organization focused on providing top-quality service to its customers has been very rewarding professionally. I will always be proud to be a Santee Cooper retiree.”

The Summer reactor project collapsed after Westinghouse filed in late April for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The utilities stopped construction after determining it would cost too much to finish. The project was originally budgeted to cost about $11.3 billion when approved by the commission in 2009, but later studies found that the twin reactor project would wind up costing about $20 billion.

So far, about 5,400 workers have lost their jobs, according to Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notifications filed with the S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce. A skeleton crew remains at the site to wind down the project.

SCE&G, principal subsidiary of Cayce-based SCANA, and Santee Cooper operate one reactor unit at the Jenkinsville plant, which went into commercial operation in 1984.

Santee Cooper is one of the nation’s largest public electricity utilities, serving more than 2 million South Carolinians.

Reach Chuck Crumbo at 803-726-7542.

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