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Santee Cooper approves 2020 budget, but details are scarce

Staff Report //December 16, 2019//

Santee Cooper approves 2020 budget, but details are scarce

Staff Report //December 16, 2019//

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Santee Cooper’s 2020 budget includes the utility’s annual payment of 1% of its projected operating revenues to the state, but other details are scarce for now.

The state-owned utility’s board of directors approved the budget, which is normally public record, on Monday. But because the budget could reveal more details about Santee Cooper’s plan to keep the utility under state control as well as its potential future investments, more details cannot be released until the utility’s fate is decided.

Santee Cooper’s reform plan is one of several bids submitted to the S.C. Legislature, which is expected to decide next year if the utility will be sold. That plan is a “confidential process administered by the state,” said Santee Cooper spokeswoman Mollie Gore, meaning that the utility is “limited in what we can say” about the 2020 budget.

Gore said it’s Santee Cooper’s understanding that budget details will become public information once the state Department of Administration’s evaluation of the bids has ended. Florida-based NextEra Energy, Charlotte-based Duke Energy and Greenville investment firm Pacolet Milliken are among suitors for the utility, saddled with billions in debt and being shopped by S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster in the wake of the failed V.C. Summer nuclear project it co-owned.

The 2020 budget includes a projected payment to the state of South Carolina for $17.5 million, or 1% of projected operating revenues from the utility’s combined electric and water systems, which Gore said is “pretty consistent with where it’s been.” The budget also includes an operations and management allotment of $715.1 million, according to a news release.

In October, Santee Cooper paid off $360 million in bond debt but still has around $3.6 billion in debt tied to a failed plan to construct twin nuclear reactors at the V.C. Summer nuclear power station in Fairfield County. It submitted a plan to keep the utility operating under state control last month.

“This budget is based on the 2019 business forecast, which signaled fuel and purchased power savings — good news for our customers,” Mark Bonsall, Santee Cooper president and CEO, said in the release. “As soon as we are legally able to, Santee Cooper will gladly provide full details about how the reform plan, submitted on Nov. 25, impacts customers as well.”

In September, Santee Cooper outlined a plan pay off its nuclear debt by $925 million in the next two years without raising rates while increasing its solar capacity by 500%. The utility also plans to introduce large-scale battery storage, increase its natural gas production and close four coal-fired generating units in the next eight years.