Lawmakers have now created two separate committees to explore the sale of state-owned utility Santee Cooper. One of those committees (formed by the Senate) met last Tuesday and requested to spend roughly $193,000 to gather more information before taking official action. In light of this reluctance to move toward a sale, it’s important to remember that lawmakers are not just discussing the future of a state-owned public utility, but that Santee Cooper also functions as an economic development machine for the state.
Aside from providing power to over 2 million customers, Santee Cooper also has a statutory obligation to pursue “economic development and job attraction,” all of which is paid for by their ratepayers. The utility offers a number of perks and services in the name of job creation, including loans and grants to local governments, reduced power rates for prospective businesses, a property listing service, and a wealth of community data. For reference, the utility has spent over $110 million on economic development grants and loans since 2010.
Here’s a deep dive The Nerve published several years ago into Santee Cooper’s economic development network. As lawmakers decide the utility’s fate, it’s important to remember that for lawmakers, selling Santee Cooper isn’t just a question of lowering customer bills.
State-Owned Utility Offers Economic Incentives to Industries
A nonprofit group formed between state-owned Santee Cooper and 20 electric cooperatives served by the utility hopes to grow South Carolina’s industrial base by offering rate discounts to new or expanding companies.
The “South Carolina Power Team” also has given tens of thousands of dollars to county economic development agencies with ties to local government agencies for economic development projects in those areas, federal tax records show.
The rate discounts, which were first announced in February, could save eligible industries as much as 20 percent on their electric bills.
Meanwhile, Santee Cooper’s Board of Directors last week approved rate hikes averaging 3.5 percent each year for two years for its residential, commercial, industrial and municipal customers.