The Coastal Conservation League has released a study indicating that utility customers of Santee Cooper, South Carolina’s state-owned utility, can expect higher rates if proposed coal-fired plants are constructed.
Report author David Schlissel with Synapse Energy Economics in Cambridge, MA., says the Pee Dee Plant is too risky, and its pollution would be out of line with future federal regulations, which would mean higher-priced electricity. “What we found from Santee Cooper’s own modeling is that if it builds both of the plants it wants to build at the Pee Dee River, it’s CO2 emissions will grow substantially by the year 2024, which is the last year they gave us information for.”
Schlissel says the poor state of the economy has shown the utility’s projections of future power needs to be too high. Governor Mark Sanford, as well as the Department of Natural Resources and members of the Department of Health and Environmental Control board have all expressed misgivings about the proposed plant.
Schlissel says that over the next 15 years congress will likely reduce allowable carbon emissions between 14 and 20 percent,while Santee Cooper’s carbon dioxide emissions will increase. He says the federal government will expect utilities to pay extra for polluting emissions. “In other words, if they build a new cold plant, Santee’s Co2 emissions will go up, while the federal government is requiring generators to reduce their CO2 emissions, cleary going in the wrong direction.”
Add to that factor the cost of coal. The Coastal Conservation League’s North Coast Office Director Nancy Cave says every South Carolina power provider, including Santee Cooper, has mentioned plans to raise rates as a result of rising coal prices.
Laura Varn is Vice-President of Communications for the utility. She says the utility simply needs the new generators to meet energy requirements. “We think the report is Monday morning quarterbacking. We don’t have the luxury to work with the short-term or the hypothetical when it comes to energy needs. Santee Cooper had to make critical decisions two years ago that affect the growing energy needs of this state. We stand by those decisions, frequently evaluate them and report back to the board on those.”
Varn says the reasons for her board’s decision are clear and the plans for the plant are within existing guidelines. “What I can tell you is this. The need for the plant is real. It is the most economical decision, and it meets or does better than all state or federal standards. But we are disappointed that the Coastal Conservation League didn’t honor their agreement to let us review the report before it went public.”
Schlissel says exactly how much more one or both of the proposed plants would cost consumers is not certain. That will be the subject of the Coastal Conservation League’s next study.