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Politics & Government

SCANA CEO Marsh, another top executive departing after nuclear fiasco

SCANA Corp. chief executive Kevin Marsh and chief operating officer Stephen Byrne officially are leaving the Cayce-based utility amid a months-long furor over the company’s failed nuclear expansion project.

The two are the first SCANA executives to depart since the company’s July 31 announcement it was abandoning a nine-year, $9 billion effort with the state-owned Santee Cooper utility to build two new nuclear reactors in Fairfield County.

They join former Santee Cooper CEO Lonnie Carter, who announced his retirement a month after the biggest construction debacle in S.C. history.

SCANA’s announcement Tuesday that the two executives will retire on Jan. 1 followed days of speculation about their future with the much-maligned power company.

SCANA denied The State newspaper’s report Saturday that Marsh and Byrne had been “ousted” from South Carolina’s largest publicly owned company.

Marsh, 62, told employees Monday he was not leaving, prompting calls for his resignation from S.C. House members.

Tuesday morning, the company said its chief financial officer, Jimmy Addison, will replace Marsh as CEO, while senior vice president Keller Kissam will replace Byrne, 57, as chief operating officer.

Meanwhile, SCANA board member Maybank Hagood was elevated to board chairman, a role that SCANA’s chief executive had held.

By Tuesday afternoon, hours after the announcement, SCANA’s stock price had tumbled to its lowest point since late 2011 – $43.26 a share. That is a massive drop from the company’s 52-week high of $74.99 a share.

The departures show SCANA is “beginning to fully understand the devastating consequences of abandoning the V.C. Summer project,” S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster said in a statement.

However, the Richland Republican said, “any effort to regain the public’s trust starts with no longer charging ratepayers for this failed project, and refunding them the money they’ve already been paid for it.”

S.C. House Speaker Jay Lucas said he the news left him “extremely encouraged.”

“This necessary step should have occurred months ago and never at the behest of outside pressure,” the Darlington Republican said. “SCANA now has an opportunity to begin earning back the public trust it has deservedly lost over the VC Summer nuclear facility collapse.”

It is unclear what role, if any, Marsh and Byrne will play with SCANA before their retirements officially take effect next January.

It also is unclear what Marsh and Byrne will be get in separation pay. They were in line to earn a combined $40.8 million in golden parachutes had SCANA been sold.

In a message to employees, Marsh said the utility is in good hands with Addison at the helm and Hagood chairing its board. Marsh said he told the board late Monday that it was in the utility’s best interest that he leave. That came the same day that a chorus of lawmakers, including House Speaker Lucas, called for Marsh to quit following the weekend’s uncertainty over his status.

“It has been an immense privilege and a tremendous source of pride for me to have served as your chief executive officer during the past 6 years, and to have worked with the dedicated men and women of this company since 1984,’’ Marsh said in an email to SCANA employees, given to The State.

“Steve (Byrne) and I are committed to staying on board through the end of the year to ensure a smooth transition in leadership and to continue working toward resolution of issues related to our decision to abandon our nuclear construction project.’’

State Rep. James Smith, a Richland Democratic running for governor next year, said it was time for Marsh and Byrne to leave.

Smith said SCANA has become an arrogant utility, unwilling to change and too secretive. The company now must work aggressively to lower its electric bills – some of the highest in the region, he said.

A leadership change gives SCANA a chance to make amends with customers and its community, Smith said.

“It's a good thing and this is an important step to bringing everything back into alignment,’’ the Columbia lawmaker said. “It’s a step that allows the company to take necessary action to regain the public trust and confidence.’’

Smith and other lawmakers were particularly encouraged that Kissam had been elevated to a top position at SCANA. A Citadel graduate who is well connected in South Carolina, Kissam is known for his people skills, Smith said.

“He gives the company the best chance to turn this thing around,’’ Smith said.

But Tom Clements, an adviser to the Friends of the Earth environmental group, questioned why Addison had been retained and promoted to chief executive officer.

For years, Clements’ group has said the nuclear project in Fairfield County was a boondoggle and was costing ratepayers too much.

“Addison is one of the ringleaders of the project,’’ Clements said. “Rewarding him is very unsettling.’’

SCANA declined to make Addison or Kissam available to comment.

Avery G. Wilks: 803-771-8362, @averygwilks; Sammy Fretwell: 803-771-8537, @sfretwell83

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