May 22, 2015

Demolition pushed back for retired coal plant near Conway

The retired Grainger facility dominates the skyline above Conway (File)

The retired Grainger facility dominates the skyline above Conway (File)

A Santee Cooper spokeswoman says work to demolish a shuttered coal plant outside Conway has been pushed back a few weeks.

The state-owned power utility had initially said crews with National Salvage and Service Corporation would start interior work on Monday at the former Grainger Generating Station. But spokeswoman Mollie Gore said the company had fallen behind due to weather delays on a previous project. But she said the contractor planned to begin work within the next two weeks.

“About the middle of May, people will start to see them coming in, bringing in some of the support infrastructure, mobilizing to prepare to start demolition,” she told South Carolina Radio Network.

She said crews would work six days a week, first starting demolition of the coal conveying equipment in June, followed by removal of buildings on the site over the next six months. She said the last structure to come down will likely be Grainger’s two prominent smokestacks. The utility believes work should wrap up by summer 2016.

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Duke Energy agrees to clean up coal ash site in Darlington County

Duke Energy has agreed to clean up its coal ash stored beside Lake Robinson in Darlington County. For months, groups urged Duke Energy to excavate its ash from unlined pits to dry, lined, storage away from the water.

“This is a victory for South Carolinians who have raised concerns about coal ash pollution at Robinson, and it appears Duke has decided to do the right thing,” Frank Holleman, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center told South Carolina Radio Network Thursday. “It is well past time that this dangerous and polluting coal ash storage be moved to safe, dry, lined storage away from Lake Robinson and Black Creek.”

Until recently, Duke Energy had reported that it stored only 660,000 tons of coal ash at Robinson and reported no serious problems there. But Holleman said they uncovered documentation that Duke Energy’s coal ash has contaminated groundwater with arsenic at 100 times in excess of the legal limits and that that the utility had dumped low-level radioactive waste in the unlined coal ash pit.

In addition, the documentation showed serious concerns about the safety of Duke Energy’s coal ash dam.  The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control notified Duke Energy that it is violating South Carolina law due to its arsenic pollution at Robinson.  Duke Energy has admitted that in fact it stores 4.2 million tons of coal ash at Robinson, more than six times as much as it had previously claimed.

With this announcement, all South Carolina utilities have agreed to clean up all the coal ash they store in  the state in unlined riverfront pits.




Sanford comes out against oil & gas exploration along SC coast

Mark Sanford (File)

Mark Sanford (File)

Congressman Mark Sanford has now firmly come down against offshore seismic testing and drilling for oil or natural gas off the Atlantic coast.

Sanford previously opposed oil drilling when he was governor — but had left the door open for natural gas. He had not committed to either position since the Interior Department in January proposed opening up the Atlantic to businesses exploring for oil or gas. The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has also given preliminary approval for energy companies to begin “seismic testing” in the south and mid-Atlantic.

The tests use airguns which are towed behind vessels and shoot blasts of compressed air through the water and into the seabed. Researchers use reflections from the blast to map out the ocean floor, identify underwater fault lines, and analyze geologic formations that could hint about buried oil and gas deposits.

Sanford said in a Mount Pleasant press conference that the public would not get a chance to see the test results before any drilling leases would be approved. “Ultimately, South Carolinians would not be in the driver’s seat in making that call,” he said. “It would not be transparent. And, although the testing information would be out there, it would not be available to the public.”

He worried also worried about the environmental impact from the drilling infrastructure or an accident. “There is a special something about the look and feel of the Lowcountry,” he said. “And it needs to be preserved.”

The federal government estimates of the undiscovered oil and gas resources beneath the U.S. Atlantic outer continental shelf range from 1.3 to 5.58 billion barrels, which pales in comparison to the amount of estimated reserves in the Gulf Coast or other heavily-drilled regions.

South Carolina’s other coastal congressman, Tom Rice, favors exploration but agrees with Sanford that states must have a say in where offshore drilling is allowed. Upstate Congressman Jeff Duncan has been one of Congress’ most vocal supporters of Atlantic drilling, believing it could add billions to South Carolina’s economy and help reduce dependence on foreign oil sources. Gov. Nikki Haley also supports opening up the state’s coast. All four politicians are Republican.

But dozens of coastal cities and towns in South Carolina have passed referendums against the idea, worried about the potential impact on their community.

South Carolina National Guard trains with forestry commission to fight forest fires

As a man-made fire burns through the forest, threatening property and lives, the South Carolina National Guard is called in to assist civilian firefighters in extinguishing the fire. This is the scenario the Soldiers and aviators of the 2-151st Security and Support Aviation Battalion faced at Manchester State Forest here during a training exercise.

“We’re working with the forestry commission and training together to put out forest fires,” said Chief Warrant Officer 4 David Reynolds, Battalion standardization pilot for the 2-151st SSABN.

That capability is the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter, which provides a variety of options to the Guard and becomes a huge asset during civilian emergencies.

“The Black Hawk is a very versatile machine,” said Reynolds. “With it, we can fight forest fires, transport personnel, conduct hoist missions, air assaults and sling loads. It is a stable, capable platform in just about any weather that that South Carolina can throw at it.”

The joint training exercise was an opportunity for Soldiers and firefighters from the South Carolina Forestry Commission to train together. The primary goal of the exercise was to increase the readiness of both air and ground crews while testing a variety of lines of communication between the Soldiers in the air and the firemen on the ground.

“This training exercise gives us the opportunity to understand the capabilities of the South Carolina National Guard and what they can provide,” said Darryl Jones, South Carolina Forestry Commission Fire Chief. “They are a valuable asset in fighting fires and we can’t get that support from anywhere else right now.”

Although the Guard continually works with local and state authorities, problems and issues occasionally arise. But having the training exercises works out most of the problems before they become a concern during a real emergency.

Former Duke Energy executive tapped to lead SC environmental agency

Catherine Heigel (LinkedIn)

Catherine Heigel (LinkedIn)

The board of South Carolina’s public health and environmental agency has tapped a former Duke Energy executive to lead the agency during Gov. Nikki Haley’s second term.

The Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) board, whose members are appointed by the governor, voted unanimously for Catherine Heigel in a Friday teleconference. Her nomination must now be confirmed by the Senate.

Heigel currently works as a general counsel for the accounting firm Elliott Davis Decosimo in Greenville. Prior to that she spent 11 years at Duke Energy, including serving as president of the company’s South Carolina operations from 2010 until 2012.

She will replace Catherine Templeton, who announced her resignation from the post in January to pursue other opportunities. After her resignation, the board chose former state insurance director Eleanor Kitzman for the post. But Kitzman’s nomination was held up in the Statehouse, where Democratic senators (and even some Republicans) questioned her credentials and her close fundraising ties to Gov. Haley. Kitzman eventually withdrew her name from consideration.

Board members said they selected Heigel from among 99 applicants. The board said its two other finalists were Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Michael Wolf and Timothy Keck, the chief of staff for Kansas Governor Sam Brownback. State law requires the top three finalists be made public.

Heigel’s salary would be $155,000 per year if she is confirmed, according to statements made during Friday’s meeting.