Nuclear fallout nextera waits in the wings as dominion takes center stage in columbia business q gastrobar leblon


NextEra CEO James Robo called McMaster’s office the day the Dominion-SCANA deal was announced to say his company was still interested in buying Santee Cooper, according to people with knowledge of the conversation. No other company tied to a possible Santee Cooper deal reached out to McMaster’s office.

Shar Pourreza, a utility analyst at Guggenheim Partners, said that a decade ago, Florida Power had a testy relationship with regulators and a heap of work to keep up in an evolving industry. Florida depended heavily on outdated power plants that burned coal and oil, lagging behind on renewable energy and struggling with infrastructure ill-prepared for damaging storms.

"If you just think about the needs of South Carolina and you look at the needs of Florida, they have very similar needs in terms of infrastructure," Pourreza said, though he says Florida is ahead. "They were able to take what was a relatively challenging state, weather it and essentially turn it around."

Florida was the first of at least 11 states to rewrite the rulebooks of utility regulation, letting power companies finance risky power plants by shifting risk from their investors to their customers. The Post and Courier’s investigation " Power Failure" found that utilities in Florida spent $6 billion on nuclear plants.

The company, which provides electricity on Florida’s east coast, has collected $275 million from customers for a nuclear construction project that hasn’t broken ground. The project south of Miami would use the same Westinghouse designs that V.C. Summer did, but the company hasn’t walked away yet, suggesting that it will wait to see what becomes of similar reactors now being built in Georgia.

NextEra also used the Florida law to undertake an ambitious project executives would later call "one of the most challenging in the history of the industry." It opted to upgrade four reactors in south Florida in a construction effort that would ultimately yield the equivalent of the mid-size power plant.

The company has hired heavy-hitters like former senator and gubernatorial candidate Tommy Moore and former Rep. Harry Cato, who served as House speaker pro tem and chaired the Labor, Commerce and Industry Committee. But there are still looming questions about how far its influence reaches.

At the Statehouse, the company is also rumored to be connected to the Palmetto Energy Coalition, a group that cropped up as McMaster’s efforts to sell Santee Cooper accelerated. Statehouse sources have indicated that NextEra was one of the group’s founding members.

Advocacy groups with vague names and agendas have been a staple in South Carolina for years, helping topple lawmakers and push causes. These groups remain popular because they are not required to file state financial disclosure reports after a 2011 federal court decision.

The coalition is led by former U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett, a former solar advocate who didn’t respond to repeated calls and messages on social media over the course of more than a week. Its other lobbyist, longtime political insider Dwight Cauthen, didn’t respond to messages either.