Good news on energy

Three interesting developments in the area of energy/climate this week.

First, a blog in The Hill yesterday summarizes 4 recent poll results from ABC News/Washington Post, Wall Street Journal/NBC, USA Today/Gallup and Benenson Strategy Group. All showed strong public support for regulating greenhouse gasses and renewable energy.

The blogger, David Di Martino, concludes, “American voters would support a policy that holds polluters accountable by charging them for the pollution they create. Shadowy front groups supported by the oil industry and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are doing their best to scare voters over energy policy. But the reality is the American people want action on clean energy and climate change.”

Second, the S.C. PURC (Public Utilities Review Committee) Energy Advisory Board met for their second meeting on Wednesday. This advisory board (unfortunately with no small business representation) is charged with developing and recommending a framework for comprehensive energy policy of South Carolina. This week’s focus was on renewable energy.

Much of the discussion revolved around the increased costs associated with producing energy from biomass, wind and solar and who was going to pay. Finally, John Ramsburgh of the Conservation Voters of S.C. pointed out that other factors needed to be considered in the discussion like the costs to the public’s health and environmental degradation if renewables aren’t pursued. And, much to my appreciation, John talked about the benefits of job growth opportunities from developing new energy industries. The group decided to pursue contracting for a study of the different energy options to answer the cost and benefits questions.

The third, and possibly the most important revelation this week, was from The State’s Andy Shain who reported on Wednesday that Santee Cooper was considering backing off its $4.4 billion commitment to the new nuclear plant in Fairfield County it is building with SCE&G.

This appears to be a significant opportunity to do something in the energy area that I and others have called for—coordinating and sharing energy generation by our three private companies (SCE&G, Duke and Progress) along with our state-owned company Santee Cooper.

Instead of every power company building new plants separately with capacity they won’t need for a long, long time, why don’t they project their joint energy needs for the state for the immediate future and then build plants together. The consumers will save money and the companies (except for Santee Cooper) will only need to make one request to the Public Service Commission for approval. (Santee Cooper being state-owned is not regulated by the PSC—something that should change.)

During the debate last year over the now shelved idea of Santee Cooper building an new coal-fired power plant, Ron Calcaterra–president and CEO of The Central Electric Power Cooperative that is the wholesale power supplier for the state’s 20 electric cooperatives–specifically wrote about having the state’s utilities collectively share their existing and future power supplies to serve the needs of the state as a whole.

Mr. Calcaterra stated, “Years from now, environmentalists, regulators, politicians and utilities will mourn the missed opportunities to think big if we don’t stop the target shooting and get down to some visionary planning-together.”

Hopefully the leaders of the power companies serving our state are having these discussions right now about divvying up ownership of the nuclear power plant under construction. The success of such collaboration would be a major breakthrough for the future of energy production efficiency in South Carolina.

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