Today's editorial takes local electric and water utilities to task for refusing to submit to Horry County review of water towers, electric substations and other installations:
The good folks who run our local electric and utilities seem to have fallen prey to corpthink: mimicking corporate-utility execs who feel accountability to investors but not ratepayers. How else can their refusal to submit to Horry County participation in electric and water installations be interpreted?
The issue arose last spring, readers will recall, when residents of The Farm subdivision reacted with surprise and anger to the construction of a water tower on International Drive - right in their backyards. Shortly after, some residents of the Wynbrooke subdivision near S.C. 707 objected when construction on an electrical substation commenced near their homes.
Those incidents prompted the Horry County Council to ask the utilities to work with planning staff on a public-review procedure for future utility installations. The idea - a good one - was to give residents a way to understand where future utility installations would be sited and why they are necessary.
But no. After preliminary discussions with county planners, utility representatives said it just wouldn't be convenient for them to submit to public review. Their excuses: Such installations need to be planned years in advance, sometimes before subdivisions are even built; a county review requirement also could inhibit their ability to keep up with population growth.
If ratepayers don't like their installation decisions, in other words, tough.
Were the utilities in question investor-owned, this arrogance might be understandable. But with Santee Cooper, Horry Electric Cooperative and the Grand Strand Water & Sewer Authority, the customers are the owners - or supposedly are. All three local utilities were government-initiated and accountable - on paper, at least - to ratepayers.
Horry Electric's don't-mess-with-us attitude toward public review of utility installations seems risky. The co-op is about to sock its residential ratepayers with hefty electric-bill increases. The utility recently announced that the higher cost of its chief generating fuel, coal, makes increases of 30 percent or more a necessity if the co-op is to remain solvent.
As suggested by a letter on today's editorial page, that retail-power cost increase has potential to be a public-relations problem for the co-op and its wholesale-power supplier, Santee Cooper. So this seems an especially bad time for the electric utilities to further incur public wrath by refusing to work with the county on utility installations.
By agreeing to county review of future water towers, sewer lift stations, electric substations and the like, the utilities would not endure much aggravation. It's not as though the county wants to inhibit the utilities' ability to deal with growth.
In return for looking public-spirited, the utilities could count on the the county to be a partner in dealing with public opposition to future projects. What better way to get beyond the corpthink image they're projecting now?