Should Santee Cooper be sold? McCoy dodges the question at board confirmation hearing

·3 min read

The former U.S. attorney nominated to chair the Santee Cooper board says he wants to restore trust in thestate-owned electric utility but would not take a position on whether it should be sold.

Peter McCoy, who oversaw federal investigations and state legislative probes into the failed V.C. Summer nuclear construction project, which Santee Cooper and its senior partner SCANA abandoned in 2017, had his first confirmation hearing on Wednesday after being nominated by Gov. Henry McMaster to be Santee Cooper board chairman.

During the hearing in front of a South Carolina utility oversight panel, McCoy did not take a position on whether Santee Cooper should be sold when prodded by state Sen. Luke Rankin, R-Horry.

“I don’t think it is ethically appropriate for me as a potential board member to make that statement, given that decision has been removed from me when I decided to vacate my position to vacate my position in the South Carolina House of Representatives and move on to being the U.S. attorney,” McCoy said.

McCoy did say he wants to help Santee Cooper regain the trust of ratepayers, lawmakers and the utility’s business partners, such as electric cooperatives who receive power from Santee Cooper.

But that involves the ability to do long-term planning for the utility.

“You have to be able to make long term plans because, number one, you have to be able to protect the ratepayer,” McCoy said.

McCoy was questioned by members of the Public Utilities Review Committee, a committee which includes lawmakers among others who screen candidates to serve on the state’s utility regulatory commissions.

McCoy was nominated by McMaster to be Santee Cooper board chairman. McCoy served as South Carolina’s U.S. attorney during the Trump administration and oversaw the federal probe into fraud allegations against leaders of SCANA, the now-defunct parent company of S.C. Electric & Gas, and their roles in the abandoned V.C. Summer Nuclear Generating Station project.

Two former top SCANA executives — Stephen Byrne and Kevin Marsh — pleaded guilty to criminal fraud charges, and a top Westinghouse official, who oversaw construction on the project, is expected to plead guilty for lying to a federal investigator.

Rankin, who has led Senate efforts for reform of the utility while being against prospects of a sale, pointed out during the hearing that no Santee Cooper officials have been charged in relation to the nuclear debacle.

The prospects of whether the Legislature should even consider a sale or offers for all or parts of the utility also are up in the air. Lawmakers are wrestling over whether to include a committee to consider offers for 10 years as part of an overall Santee Cooper reform package. The legislation is in a conference committee.

McCoy said it’s important for the utility to keep rates low even after a four-year rate freeze stemming from a ratepayer lawsuit over V.C. Summer expires. McCoy has been a proponent of expanding rooftop solar in the state.

“The only way to keep rates low is to explore other options of energy,” McCoy said.

McCoy was selected to chair the board of the state utility, which has billions of dollars in debt, as lawmakers are trying to finalize a reform package to increase oversight of the utility.

McCoy’s confirmation requires votes by the full PURC, the Senate Judiciary Committee and the full Senate.

McCoy said he accepted the nomination with the understanding that there be no political pressure on how to handle the role.

“I believe earnestly and in my heart I can’t be effective and I cannot do what I need to do if there are directives coming form elsewhere,” McCoy said.

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