Beaufort Today -

Officials must come clean on nuclear scandal

For a columnist like me, the state’s nuclear scandal is the gift that keeps on giving. It is no exaggeration to say there could be columns several times a week on the scandal — and that’s likely to be so for years to come.

There will be thousands of articles written by journalists, millions of words spoken by politicians and utility executives, and billions of dollars in payments to ratepayers are at stake.

As we begin to work our way through this $9 billion scandal affecting millions of people, there are two facts we should never lose sight of and two steps that must be taken.

Those responsible should be held accountable. SCANA, Santee Cooper and the politicians who passed the legislation will blame each other when they are all at fault. Their hands are dirty.

Those not responsible, the ratepayers, should not have to pay. They are being asked to pay billions of dollars, perhaps for as long as 60 years. This is wrong. Their hands are clean.

The elected officials with dirty hands must come clean. This means they should disclose all of their financial dealings with SCANA, Santee Cooper and the electric co-ops. Better than returning the money, they should give it to charity.

The utility leaders with dirty hands should resign. They should refund any bonuses, stock options or other extra payments they have received since the beginning of the scandal in 2007. There should be no severance payments or golden parachutes. None.

If someone thinks this is overly tough, my suggestion is to ask the families that are being asked to pay on average $7,000 for as many as 60 years.

So where are we today?

Let’s start with the ratepayers. Their utility rates should be rolled back to 2007 levels. They should be refunded, with interest, the billions of dollars they have paid for the failed project.

As best I can tell from news reports, no one has said this should be the goal. Instead, the only discussions have been about how much more the ratepayers should have to pay and for how long.

The CEO of Santee Cooper, Lonnie Carter, is on the way out. Whether he resigned or was pushed is a matter of semantics. He’s gone.

None of the other seven members of top management at Santee Cooper or the 12 members of the board of directors have indicated they will be leaving. All 12 members of SCANA’s top management and all 10 members of its board of directors are still in place.

I may have missed it, but I have not heard anyone from SCANA or Santee Cooper who created this scandal say these two words: I’m sorry.

Republican Rep. Bill Hixon has returned all of his campaign contributions from SCANA and the electric co-ops. Democratic Rep. Russell Ott has returned his contribution from SCANA. This is significant, as they are members of the House committee charged with investigating the scandal.

No other state elected officials have returned the money. Nor has anyone voluntarily disclosed any payments of retainers, consulting contracts or other payments to themselves or their immediate families. None.

The House and Senate have said they will conduct an investigation to find out what happened and who is responsible. The answer to the first question is complex; the answer to the second is easy. The Legislature should simply look in the mirror — or look down at their dirty hands.

The whole thing began when the Base Load Review Act in 2007 allowed utilities to charge ratepayers in advance for construction of the nuclear plants plus a 10.25 percent guaranteed profit, even if they were never built.

To expect the Legislature to, in essence, investigate themselves without first telling us how much the utilities have paid them is beyond absurd. This is what one would expect from a corrupt third-world government. Dirty hands cannot clean up this scandal.

We need a completely independent commission of outside experts and investigators to examine every detail. Even though Gov. McMaster has not come clean about his utility money, he could at least act like he wants to get to the bottom of this by appointing such a commission. It would be a start.

Phil Noble has a technology firm in Charleston and writes a weekly column for the S.C. Press Association. Reach him at phil@philnoble.com.

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