At least three-fifths of S.C. voters are open to the idea of selling Santee Cooper after its $4 billion nuclear debacle, according to a poll commissioned by the state-owned utility’s largest customers.
The poll, paid for by the state’s 20 electric cooperatives, found 14 percent of Palmetto State voters think Santee Cooper should be sold. Another 48 percent are for selling the Moncks Corner-based power company if it fetches the right price, the poll found.
The findings come as S.C. lawmakers also wrestle with the question of whether to sell Santee Cooper. The utility and its partner, investor-owned SCE&G, last July abandoned a decadelong effort to build two more nuclear reactors at the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station in Fairfield County.
Some state leaders – Gov. Henry McMaster, in particular – say selling Santee Cooper is the only way to protect its customers, who so far have paid at least $400 million toward the useless reactors. Those customers now face the possibility of future electricity rate hikes as Santee Cooper looks to pay back the $4 billion it borrowed to pay for its portion of the $9 billion project.
Still, the survey found 22 percent of S.C. voters think the state should keep Santee Cooper, which directly serves 177,000 customers with some of the lowest electricity rates in the state. The survey polled 800 registered S.C. voters; 16 percent were undecided.
Ultimately, Santee Cooper’s fate lies with the S.C. Legislature, which has not started to accept official offers for the utility.
The co-ops buy 60 percent of Santee Cooper’s power and deliver it to some 1.5 million customers in all 46 S.C. counties. They have said they are open to Santee Cooper’s sale and want lawmakers to begin looking into it. Some co-op leaders have said they have grown frustrated with Santee Cooper over the past decade, tensions that were exacerbated as the nuclear project derailed.
At least four out-of-state utilities and one South Carolina-based investment company are interested in making a bid to buy Santee Cooper. The cooperatives themselves also could submit a bid to take over their primary power supplier.
The poll, conducted by Benchmark Research from Jan. 18-21, reached S.C. residents across the state by calls on landlines and cellphones.
Among its other findings:
▪ Nearly half of the respondents – 49 percent – said they were very or somewhat familiar with the state’s nuclear fiasco.
▪ 26 percent said they had heard about the nuclear debacle but knew little.
▪ 25 percent said they were unfamiliar with the issue.
▪ 57 percent of respondents said they support solar power, but only if it does not cost more than other sources of power.
▪ 15 percent said they support solar even if it costs more, and 24 percent said they are indifferent. The remaining 4 percent were undecided.
▪ 85 percent think it’s important that their power company be locally based and locally operated.
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