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Santee Cooper chairman responds to McMaster's letter about his firing

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Gov. Henry McMaster told Santee Cooper board chairman Leighton Lord he would be fired Dec. 18 if he did not resign, according to a letter to Lord (.pdf) dated Dec. 8. The governor accused Lord of failing to disclose critical findings about the V.C. Summer nuclear project.

At a Santee Cooper board meeting earlier this week, Lord said he did not plan to resign. In an email today, Lord said that the governor’s accusations are “100% false,” adding, “My goal at this point is to not stay on the board, but rather to correct the record.”

McMaster said Santee Cooper withheld information about the two $9 billion nuclear reactors that state-owned Santee Cooper and SCANA were building in Fairfield County, including a 2016 audit of the project by Bechtel Corp. The report showed a site in trouble, with overblown costs and engineering issues.

McMaster said the utility provider waited to disclose the February 2016 findings until September — more than a year after the report was released and a few months after construction was halted in July. He said Santee Cooper also did not share a 2015 draft report and noted that it was missing 30 pages.

“In recent months, despite repeated requests and demands for information and disclosure by the General Assembly and by me, we continue to learn of instances in which Santee Cooper was made aware of critical information regarding the design, engineering and construction of V.C. Summer Units 2 and 3 and neglected to take timely and appropriate corrective action,” McMaster said in the letter.

Lord, chairman of Columbia-based law firm Nexsen Pruet, has served as a board member for the utility provider since 2009 and as its chairman since 2013.

Responding to questions about the governor’s letter, Lord said: “Santee Cooper has important work to do and does not need this distraction, but I did not cause the distraction.”

McMaster said he also requested that Santee Cooper send a detailed explanation of how it planned to respond to issues with the project. He said Lord sent a 13-page letter and 30 documents detailing steps taken by the utility provider; McMaster called the information “incomplete and misleading.”

“It is clear that under your leadership and direction, Santee Cooper has failed to cooperate as required, providing the information necessary to resolve this crisis,” McMaster wrote in the letter.

Santee Cooper owns 45% and SCE&G 55% of the V.C. Summer project, which collapsed after contractor Westinghouse filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in April.

The project was originally budgeted to cost $11.3 billion when approved by the S.C. Public Service Commission in 2009, but costs soared to nearly $20 billion.

SCE&G and Santee Cooper spent about $9 billion — and charged ratepayers more than $2 billion — before abandoning the project.

When work stopped this summer, the effects rippled out across the state. More than 5,400 construction workers were laid off. Santee Cooper CEO Lonnie Carter retired this fall, followed by SCANA CEO Kevin Marsh and SCANA COO Steve Byrne.

It is unclear whether customers will be responsible for paying for the unfinished reactors or whether they will receive refunds. The governor has been shopping Santee Cooper, believing that a new owner could revive the reactor project, but its future is uncertain.

Melinda Waldrop and Travis Boland contributed to this story.

Reach Liz Segrist at 843-849-3119.

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