COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina's governor wants a former lawmaker who spent a year as the state's top federal prosecutor to lead the board that runs state-owned utility Santee Cooper.
Peter McCoy said Wednesday that his two goals if he becomes Santee Cooper board chairman are to improve the utility's relationship with the General Assembly and to be open and transparent to ratepayers and the taxpayers of South Carolina.
While Gov. Henry McMaster got to choose McCoy, the seven-year appointment must be approved by the South Carolina Senate, which has just 10 more regular days in its 2021 session.
McCoy's nomination comes at a key time for the utility. The Senate is debating a bill that would fire most or all of the board members this week. The House passed a bill earlier this session to reopen bids to sell Santee Cooper to a private company.
And the utility hasn't had a permanent chairman since Leighton Lord resigned in December 2017, several months after work stopped forever on two new nuclear reactors that Santee Cooper was a minority partner in building before a single watt of power was generated. It cost Santee Cooper billions of dollars.
McCoy spent 10 years as a Republican in the South Carolina House, rising to House Judiciary Committee chairman. He ran a special committee that investigated the abandoned nuclear reactors at V.C. Summer north of Columbia. Then during his year as U.S. attorney, he oversaw the prosecution of two executives of SCANA, which had the majority share in the shuttered reactors.
“I do have an extensive background in the utility industry and the situation that happened at V.C. Summer as well as Santee (Cooper), but I’m here to learn as well," McCoy said.
McMaster said he still wants to sell Santee Cooper to a private utility — a decision that lies solely with the General Assembly. The governor said he also trusts McCoy, even if they eventually disagree.
“I am confident he will do what he thinks is best for the ratepayers and taxpayers in south Carolina,” McMaster said.
At a news conference Wednesday, House Speaker Jay Lucas rattled off the accomplishments McCoy made during his 10 years in the House, but said what he thinks is most important is McCoy believes in open government and will stop Santee Cooper's habit of trying to keep their decisions under wraps as long as possible.
“With Peter, I can tell you decisions won’t be made in the backroom and then announced in public," Lucas said.
While McCoy was talking to reporters, the Senate was one floor up in the Statehouse debating a Santee Cooper bill for a second day.
The 25-page bill allows regulators more chance to review and appeal Santee Cooper's decisions and rate increases and adds minimum requirements for board members.
There was also debate on whether to open up bids to sell Santee Cooper again, something the House has already done. Lawmakers rejected a deal from NextEra Energy of Florida in March 2020 that came after an intricate $15 million process.
“We’re going to find out in the next few hours whether we are ready to do real reform or not," Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey, an Edgefield Republican, said in the fifth hour of debate over two days.
About an hour later, the Senate left for the day, but not before a procedural move that likely sets up a final vote on the bill Thursday.
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