By Frank Knapp Jr. | Florence Morning News
January 12, 2009
The S.C. Small Business Chamber of Commerce and the S.C. Wildlife Federation have called for an open review of a new coal-fired plant being proposed by Santee Cooper, the state’s public utility. We asked the Santee Cooper Advisory Board, consisting of five of our state Constitutional Officers, to provide the same kind of objective and transparent vetting process private utilities undergo through the S.C. Public Service Commission.
While Santee Cooper could experience some energy needs to fill a gap between 2013 and 2016 when a nuclear plant they will share with SCE&G is to come on line, the numerous financial and environmental problems associated with the coal plant solution demand that we find an alternative path.
Construction cost projections by Santee Cooper have been revised twice from an initial estimate of $1.99 billion to the latest estimate of $2.5 billion.
Final construction costs could well exceed $4 billion if Santee Cooper builds the two coal plants for which they have requested permits.
Coal is becoming more expensive. On Oct. 29, Santee Cooper announced its intention to seek a rate increase next year and already the rates of its electric cooperative customers have begun to balloon. Pee Dee Electric Cooperative has already announced a whopping 23 percent increase for January. Substantial increases in the rates of other electric cooperatives are expected to come in 2009.
At a recent hearing of the State Public Utilities Review Committee, speakers representing the Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina and the state’s private power companies all acknowledged that Congress is likely within several years to enact a system of capping carbon emissions that will dramatically increase the cost of producing electricity from coal. None of Santee Cooper’s publicly distributed cost projections include these future costs.
The proposed coal plant will consume much of the clean air cushion reserved for future economic growth in Florence County. County planners are already talking about how to avoid worsening air quality and the threat of air quality “nonattainment.” That would be a huge economic burden for the region, since future and existing businesses would be forced to install more expensive pollution control equipment or find a different location to operate.
The plant will emit 10 million tons of carbon dioxide per year and thus contribute to global warming. Our small business tourism and outdoor recreation industries will be threatened by higher sea levels and more severe storms that will destroy our beaches, historic structures and waterways. Insurance costs will rise impacting businesses and residents alike.
The coal plant will emit 93 pounds of highly toxic mercury, 7,500 tons of sulfur dioxide, 3,500 tons of nitrogen oxides, almost 1,000 tons of soot into our air annually. Multiple landfills and ash ponds will be sited along the Pee Dee River and more toxins will be added to an area infamous for its mercury contamination.
For all the above reasons, we have asked the Santee Cooper Advisory Board to step in and hold a public review on the proposed coal plant. While DHEC has recently given Santee Cooper a permit for the coal plant, the agency has stated that it is only empowered to determine if the coal plant will comply with air pollution limits-not to deal with any other concerns.
It would be preferable that Santee Cooper fall under the jurisdiction of the State Public Service Commission. However, for now only the Advisory Board can shine the needed light on the proposed coal plant.
It is clear to most observers that such a review process will show there are options to meet the region’s power needs that are economically superior and environmentally safer. Those would include energy efficiency measures, renewable energy sources, natural gas and excess capacity from our state’s private utilities.
We can and must do better for our small businesses and people than a financial black hole, 30-year pollution machine for a 3-year manageable problem.
— Frank Knapp is the president and CEO of the S.C. Small Business Chamber of Commerce (www.scsbc.org).