Santee Cooper’s coal-fired plant bad business decision

By Frank Knapp Jr. | Post and Courier

July 6, 2007

Santee Cooper’s proposed coal-fired plant is a good example of why the public thinks that the private sector does a better job than government in running programs.

Private sector power companies across the country, including Duke Energy and Progress Energy, have made the business decision to turn away from traditional coal-fired plants and toward new technology and conservation. Traditional coal-fired plants are simply a bad long-term investment.

By this fall bipartisan bills to cap carbon emissions generated from burning fossil fuels will be introduced in the U.S. Senate and House. There is more than a good chance that a final congressional bill will be on President Bush’s desk by early next year.

All believe that the country is within a few years of a carbon-constrained economy that will have serious financial penalties to encourage minimizing carbon emissions.

Why is this happening? Because there is now nearly universal agreement that global warming is taking place and that humans are contributing to this serious problem. We are already feeling the consequences of the pending crisis in South Carolina.

Insurance companies are raising premiums on businesses and residents along the coast to take into account anticipated stronger ocean storms resulting from global warming. Rising sea levels resulting from global warming are causing more severe beach and structural erosion and thus threatening the state’s number one industry — tourism. The effect on our inland waterways is also being seen. These problems are growing and particularly threaten every coastal business, mostly small businesses and residents’ ability to fiscally survive.

Businesses of all sizes are urging Congress to act to cap carbon emissions in a way that encourages businesses to conserve and use alternative energy sources while creating new avenues for the private sector to financially capitalize on this new environmental effort. The private sector is rallying around the awareness that destroying our environment and economy is not in the best interest of businesses.

Then there is South Carolina’s government-owned Santee Cooper. According to a recent Post and Courier commentary by Santee Cooper CEO Lonnie Carter, the utility can’t find any other way to provide energy to its growing customer base than to build a $1 billion coal-fired power plant that will release 8.7 million tons of carbon emissions per year.

Ironically, these emissions will contribute to global warming and thus add to the destruction of our own environment and economy, all in the name of cheap energy. Of course, South Carolina will pay dearly for the consequences of this poor business decision and either the Santee Cooper customers or possibly the state taxpayers will probably be forced to pay big financial penalties to the federal government. So much for cheap energy.

No one is denying that Santee Cooper will need additional energy production to meet growing needs in the future. But no one should want our state-owned power company to add to the future demise of our environment and economy.

If Santee Cooper were a private utility, the Public Service Commission would regulate the power company. Then the business community, environmental groups and the public would have the ability to directly influence Santee Cooper’s decisions. But the commission has no jurisdiction over this state agency.

Thus, it is time for Gov. Mark Sanford, who appoints the Santee Cooper board members, and our legislators to take control of this pending debacle before it is too late. There are numerous other better business decisions for Santee Cooper at this time. We need elected leadership to help the agency find these solutions.

You’ve heard politicians say that government should be run like a business. In this case, it can and should.

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