Gov. moves to fire South Carolina utility board head
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster wants to fire the chairman of the state-owned utility involved in a failed nuclear project that has cost billions of dollars, but the chairman calls the letter “completely false.”
McMaster sent a letter Friday to Santee Cooper board chairman Leighton Lord saying he is angry that the utility did not turn over all the documents he asked for about the failed construction schedule for the two new nuclear reactors at the V.C. Summer plant north of Columbia.
McMaster also thinks Lord’s failure to attend several legislative hearings on the reactors is suspicious.
“Whether by omission, commission, obfuscation or delay, such resistance, interference and lack of cooperation by a State entity is not tolerable,” McMaster wrote.
Lord said he has never had the documents the governor wanted and he told Santee Cooper officials to give McMaster everything he has asked for.
“I read it twice,” Lord said of McMaster’s letter. “It’s 100 percent false.”
McMaster spokesman Brian Symmes said the governor stands by what he wrote.
“There are over a million ratepayers in South Carolina who would disagree,” Symmes said.
McMaster wants to fire Lord on Dec. 18, but under state law Lord can respond to McMaster’s letter by next Friday and ask for a hearing on the matter.
Lord said he has not decided what to do next, but pointed out he was appointed chairman of the board in 2013 by the previous governor, Nikki Haley.
“She asked me to serve,” Lord said. “I’m going to do what is in the best interest of Santee Cooper and the state.”
Santee Cooper partnered with private company SCANA Corp. on the project, which has cost the companies nearly $9 billion and ratepayers to the utilities nearly $2 billion.
McMaster has said he can get back some of the money by selling Santee Cooper and perhaps getting the buyer to restart the project. Santee Cooper leaders have been reluctant to back a possible sale.
Customers of Santee Cooper and SCANA’s South Carolina Electric & Gas Co. have paid higher rates to pay for the reactors, which never generated a watt of power, for nearly a decade.
SCANA and the state-owned utility Santee Cooper stopped construction July 31, mostly blaming the bankruptcy of principal contractor Westinghouse.
South Carolina lawmakers, state and federal authorities and Wall Street regulators are investigating the failed project.