Chambers lock horns over Santee Cooper coal plant

By Molly Parker

Published Dec. 11, 2008 in Charleston Regional Business Journal 

Two of the state’s business chambers exchanged terse words Wednesday about Santee Cooper’s plans to build a coal plant on the Great Pee Dee River.

In a news conference in Columbia, Frank Knapp, president of the S.C. Small Business Chamber of Commerce, called on the governor and other members of the Santee Cooper Advisory Board to review the state-owned utility’s proposal to build two new coal-fired units in Florence County.

Knapp was joined by Ben Gregg, executive director of the S.C. Wildlife Federation. The two argued that a new coal plant in Florence County will drive up energy costs for small businesses and hurt companies in the tourism and outdoors industries that rely on a pristine environment. Other more affordable and environmentally friendly alternatives could meet the state’s future energy needs, they said.

Otis Rawl, president and CEO of the S.C. Chamber of Commerce, fired back with a letter saying it is “incredulous” that “an entity that claims to represent small businesses would oppose a project that will provide affordable and reliable electricity for South Carolina.”

“Affordable and reliable energy are each key to the survival of South Carolina’s businesses,” Rawl said. “When a small-business owner walks into his business every morning, the lights must come on and the rates must remain affordable.”

Knapp thumbed his nose at Rawl’s criticism.

“I try to ignore them as much as possible,” he said. “They’re representing the interests of Santee Cooper and other big businesses of the state. They don’t really care about what the downstream consequences of this will be to small businesses.”

Santee Cooper says that, without the new coal plant, the utility will begin to run short on power by 2013. Critics of the coal plant contend that any shortfall could be shored up with more aggressive conservation efforts.

The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control is expected to make a decision on whether to grant permits for the project sometime next year, though appeals could stretch the process out for months.

The Santee Cooper Advisory Board, to which the small business chamber and Wildlife Federation made their plea, is made up of the governor, secretary of state, treasurer, attorney general and comptroller general. State statute provides these elected constitutional officers with oversight of the 11-member Santee Cooper board of directors.

The advisory board does not meet regularly. Sanford has not thus far issued an opinion on Santee Cooper’s controversial plans.

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