Santee Cooper CEO Retires Amid Failed Nuclear Project

Lonnie Carter, the CEO of the state-owned electric company Santee Cooper, announced his retirement Friday, after a 35-year career ended in the wake of a failed nuclear power plant project.

The announcement came at a special called board meeting in Columbia and after a nearly 40-minute closed-door meeting. Carter served as CEO of the utility for 13 years and became the first executive associated with the $9 billion abandonment of two nuclear reactors to leave.

Santee Cooper board chairman Leighton Lord III said Carter, 58, did not retire under duress and was planning to do so, following the completion of the project at the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station near Jenkinsville.

“Lonnie knew when they started suspending nuclear construction this might be time to retire,” Lord told reporters after the meeting at the Nexsen Pruet law offices in Columbia.

Carter will remain with Santee Cooper until an interim replacement is found in the coming days. He will also continue to cooperate with legislative investigations into the collapse of the nuclear project between the utility and SCE&G.

A primary contributor to the failed project, which is two-thirds complete, was the bankruptcy of the main contractor, Westinghouse, due to cost overruns associated with the project, along with another in Georgia.  

“If Westinghouse would’ve lived up to the contract that we signed with them, we’d still be working on that project,” Lord said. “We signed a contract to complete those units for a fixed price. And if Westinghouse hadn’t filed for bankruptcy and hadn’t doubled the price on us, we’d still live up to our contract.”

The leadership shakeup comes amid outcry from ratepayers who have financed the project, the loss of some 6,000 jobs and Gov. Henry McMaster, who is trying to salvage the project through a potential sale of the utility.

Santee Cooper serves 176,748 customers in the state. Fifty-nine percent of its revenues come from sales to the Central Electric Power Cooperative, which provides wholesale power service to the state’s 20 electric cooperatives serving 1.5 million customers.