August 25, 2009

A Look Back on a Successful Struggle

From today's Florence Morning News, a look back at our coal fight:


Below is a timeline of the events surrounding Santee Cooper’s Pee Dee Energy Campus, a 600-megawatt coal-fired generation facility located on a 2,709-acre tract in Kingsburg scheduled to become operational sometime after 2012.

* April 21, 2006: Santee Cooper announces plans for a 600 megawatt pulverized coal facility with an estimated cost of $984.

* May 22, 2006: The proposed completion date is cut by two years — putting the expected completion date in 2012 — and adding $14 million to the price tag for the plant.

* Oct. 7, 2006: Santee Cooper begins submitting permits in the hopes of clearing the land of the proposed site in Kingsburg.

* Oct. 24, 2006: Pamplico Mayor Gene Gainey announces his stand in favor of the coal plant. Also, Santee Cooper announces plans to begin construction in March 2007.

* March 20, 2007: The first of the groups opposing the coal plant begin to surface. Southern Environmental Law Center and the Coastal Conservation League began making their opinions against the proposed plant known.

* March 21, 2007: Santee Cooper extols the need for more power in South Carolina, saying the company will be 385 megawatts short of the amount needed to power homes in the region by 2012, if the plant isn’t built.

* April 30, 2007: Santee Cooper announces its intention to use a more in-depth version of the Environmental Impact Statement as required by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. This process will delay the construction of the coal plant by 14 to 18 months.

* May 2, 2007: Florence County Council announces its support for proposed plant.

* July 12, 2007: The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control hosts an informal public meeting to answer questions about the proposed facility.

* July 17, 2007: Columbia-based environmental consulting firm, LPA Group, Inc, is selected to perform an evaluation of the environmental impact statement.

* Sept. 17, 2007: DHEC issues the draft of the Prevention Significant Deterioration despite many requests not to by conservationists and some residents.

* Sept. 27, 2007: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers hosts two public scoping meetings to hear the concerns of residents affected by the proposed plant.

* Oct. 25, 2007: Members of the Coastal Conservation League, the S.C. Wildlife Federation, the Southern Environmental Law Center, the S.C. Sierra Club, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and residents of the Pamplico and Kingsburg areas gather at the S.C. Statehouse to protest the proposed plant.

* Oct. 31, 2007: Health care professionals in the Pee Dee gather to protest the plant, citing a variety of health issues as a reason for DHEC to deny the draft air permits.

* Nov. 8, 2007: DHEC hosts a public hearing on the draft air permits for the Santee Cooper facility to better address the concerns of the residents in the area Gainey presents a petition signed by more than 1,000 people in favor of the plant. Mike King, a local environmentalist and resident of the Kingsburg area, also presents a petition signed by more 400 residents of the area who are against the plant.

* Dec. 13, 2007: Francis Marion University professors conduct an in-depth look into the economic benefits of the proposed coal plant, determining a total of $900 million in economic output and 9,300 jobs will be brought to the region as a result of the project, based on information provided by Santee Cooper.

* Jan. 22, 2008: Formation of the Pee Dee Supporters for Progress is announced in support of the plant.

* Jan. 23, 2008: Conservation groups release 136-page analysis of coal plants, detailing potentially harmful effects.

* Jan. 29, 2008: Attorney’s General from eight states urge DHEC to reconsider the draft air permits.

* Feb. 8, 2008: The federal court rules the Environmental Protection Agency violated the Clean Air Act by removing coal and oil plants from the list of hazardous air pollution sources.

* March 3, 2008: Santee Cooper CEO Lonnie Carter defends the need for the coal-fired facility to the members of the Florence Rotary Club.

* March 19, 2008: Santee Cooper announces plans to move forward with the Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT), as required by the federal court’s ruling in February.

* March 27, 2008: Santee Cooper announces plan to increase the cost of the proposed coal plant from $998 million to $1.25 billion, citing growing costs of gasoline and building materials.

* April 11, 2008: Eastern Carolina Development Corp. and the Coastal Conservation League join forces to contract an outside data firm to review the economic data of the coal plant. The data from the report, using public information, shows markedly different results than the one conducted by FMU professors in December. According to the new report, only 228 jobs would come to the region as a result of the plant.

* July 1, 2008: Santee Cooper CEO Lonnie Carter announces plans to submit the final Maximum Achievable Control Technology analysis to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control during a press conference at Dozier M. Munn Pamplico Public Library. Carter also outlines an updated generation plan, which included a mercury education initiative, as well as the hiring of a new member to the power plant’s team, Dr. Gail Charnley, a toxicology specialist from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The mercury education initiative, entitled “The Real Story on Mercury,” is a comprehensive effort to provide the public with accurate information on an often misinterpreted subject.

* July 28, 2008: Opponents of the proposed Pee Dee Energy Campus gather at Wilson High School to discuss concerns about the plant during a meeting organized by local community activists.

* Sept. 22: Residents from across Darlington County attended a meeting organized by local community activists at Mayo High School for Math, Science & Technology in Darlington to learn more about the Pee Dee Energy Campus.

* Oct. 23: Hundreds of people pack the Hannah-Pamplico gymnasium to make their voices heard about the Pee Dee Energy Campus during DHEC’s first formal public hearing on the matter.

* Dec. 10: The S.C. Small Business Chamber of Commerce and the S.C. Wildlife Federation meet in Columbia to ask the Santee Cooper Advisory Board to take a closer look at plans for the utility’s Pee Dee Energy Campus and consider the opinions of community members when making their decision. The advisory board consists of the governor, secretary of state, treasurer, attorney general and comptroller general for South Carolina.

* Dec. 16: DHEC announces its approval of the air quality permit for the proposed Pee Dee Energy Campus.

* Dec. 31: A coalition of environmental groups join to appeal DHEC’s decision to approve the air permit for the Pee Dee Energy Campus.

* Jan. 16: National conservation leaders gather with local environmentalists to discuss the validity of the Pee Dee Energy Campus.

* Feb. 11: On the eve of the DHEC’s review conference of the Pee Dee Energy Campus, Gov. Mark Sanford announces his opposition to the proposed facility.

* Feb. 12: A majority of DHEC Board members vote against remanding the original air permit for the Pee Dee Energy Campus. The majority of the board members said although they believe the permit was issued legally, their decision doesn’t mean they like the idea of a coal-fired power plant.

* April 8: Local environmentalists decide on their own to investigate the mercury content in the Great Pee Dee River to prove the proposed Santee Cooper coal-fired power plant to be a bad decision by cutting volunteers’ hair to be tested for elevated mercury levels.

* April 13: The Southern Environmental Law Center files an appeal on behalf of the Environmental Defense Fund, the League of Women Voters of South Carolina, the S.C. Coastal Conservation League, the S.C. Wildlife Federation and the Sierra Club asking the courts to rescind the air permits DHEC issued to Santee Cooper in February for the Pee Dee Energy Campus.

* April 22: Opponents of the Pee Dee Energy Campus gather in Columbia to announce the findings of a new study regarding rate increases for Santee Cooper customers, which they say supports their arguments.

* May 7: A summarization report is released by the Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice, two national environmental watchdog groups, showing the Environmental Protection Agency researched the safety of coal-fired facilities, but never released the findings of the study.

* July 27: Santee Cooper’s board meets in Myrtle Beach to get public feedback on a proposed rate increase, while a group of local environmental activists gathered to protest both the increase and the utility’s plans for the Pee Dee Energy Campus.

* Aug. 24: Santee Cooper’s board votes to suspend permitting for the Pee Dee Energy Campus.

Florence Spared a Dirty Coal Plant

From the Florence Morning News:
PINOPOLIS — Santee Cooper said the economy and uncertainty over the cost of possible cap-and-trade legislation are two reasons its board has voted to suspend permitting for a proposed coal-fired power generation facility in Kingsburg.

The board of the state-owned utility took its vote Monday, when a committee recommended the suspension of permitting for the $1.25 billion facility for these reasons, as well as reduced power load requirements.

The power load reduction would result from another board vote to allow Central Electric Power Cooperative Inc. to remove 1,000 megawatts from Santee Cooper’s system over seven years beginning in 2013.

“Any of those three items would cause us to cancel (the facility). ... We’re going to put it on hold and sit tight,” board Chairman O.L. Thompson said after the meeting.


Santee Cooper President and CEO Lonnie Carter said that if the circumstances continue as expected, he thinks the project will ultimately be canceled.

“We’re not in the business of building power plants,” he said after the meeting. “We’re in the business of providing low-cost, reliable power.”


Opponents of the proposed Kingsburg plant said they applauded Santee Cooper’s board for their decision.

“I think it moves us toward a clean-energy future,” said Peggy Brown of Florence, who represented the League of Women Voters and state Sierra Club. “I’m very grateful for Santee Cooper’s commitment to their energy-efficiency programs.”

The board also voted Monday to extend its energy-efficiency loan program from $5.5 million to $10 million.

“Obviously, I want the ultimate decision to be that the coal plant will never be built and that (Santee Cooper) will focus on” energy efficiency and invest in renewable energy, said Nancy Cave, North Coast Office director for the Coastal Conservation League.

John Ramsburgh, climate and energy director for Conservation Voters of South Carolina, said the board’s vote “reflects a national trend” against coal and toward clean, efficient energy.

“We look forward to passing strong federal climate legislation that will create jobs and promote an energy-independent South Carolina,” he said.
Read the full article at

Victory! Coal Plant Nixed

From the State:

PINOPOLIS — Ending months of private discussions, Santee Cooper’s governing board abandoned plans Monday to build a $2.2 billion coal-fired power plant that had sparked an uproar in South Carolina over the need for the energy complex and its potential environmental impacts.

The Santee Cooper board agreed the state’s sluggish economy, the expense of looming federal carbon regulation — and an agreement with another power company — have made it possible to forgo building the power station along the Great Pee Dee River in Florence County.

O.L. Thompson, the Santee Cooper board chairman, said that while the state-owned utility reserves the right to pursue the coal plant at a later time, he doubts that will happen.

The 11-member board voted unanimously to stop seeking environmental permits for the plant. The state Department of Health and Environmental Control has approved an air pollution permit, but that is under appeal. State and federal water quality and wetlands permits are pending.

“The likelihood of us ever activating it is remote,’’ Thompson said of the coal plant.


Monday’s vote was a blow to many political leaders who saw the Great Pee Dee River plant as a way to pump up the economy of rural Florence County.

But the decision was a resounding victory for the state’s environmental community, which had kept a steady drumbeat of opposition to the plant for more than two years.


“I’m thrilled,’’ said Nancy Cave, who organized efforts against the plant for the S.C. Coastal Conservation League. “We don’t need this coal plant. It’s like they (Santee Cooper’s board) have woken up.’’

Using coal as way to provide electricity is an increasingly debatable plan. The fossil fuel, which in many cases is mined by blowing off the tops of mountains, is considered a major source of greenhouse gas pollution when burned in power plants to create electricity. Many states have abandoned plans for coal plants.

Santee Cooper’s coal plant annually would have released up to 10 million tons of carbon dioxide and as much as 93 pounds of mercury. The utility had applied for permits for two units to generate 1,320 megawatts, but said it only planned to build one.


Lonnie Carter, Santee Cooper’s chief executive, said the plant is expensive and unnecessary in tough economic times. Santee Cooper’s overall sales are down 5 percent from last year, he said. Dropping the coal plant makes it imperative that Santee Cooper gain permission to build a nuclear plant north of Columbia with SCE&G, he said.
Read the full story at the

Coal-fired power plant shelved

From today's Post and Courier:
Three years' worth of controversy surrounding Santee Cooper's planned Pee Dee coal plant all but died Monday when the public utility's board voted to suspend the project.

The decision hinged on three key reasons: The economic recession lightened Santee Cooper's demand and pulled sales down 5 percent from last year; proposed federal regulations call for new, costly technology on plants; and the utility's biggest customer, Central Electric Power Cooperative, plans to shift 1,000 megawatts of its load to North Carolina-based Duke Energy beginning in 2013.

Santee Cooper president and chief executive Lonnie Carter said that although the vote was termed a "suspension," that language merely creates a safety net in case the Central deal falls through or another major change in business restores the need for more power.

Laura Varn, Santee Cooper vice president of corporate communications, called that possibility remote and said the board would have to take formal action to restart plans or to cancel the plant for good. Although utility officials would not provide a time line for making that final step, Varn noted a March deadline for Central to back out from its transfer without penalty.

The vote marked a major victory for environmental groups around the state that had watched the plant progress over the past few years. Carter praised the decision as an example of Santee Cooper doing "the right thing."


Environmental groups, which came from around the state to attend the meeting, praised the decision to suspend the plant in the meantime.

Peggy Brown, a board member for the South Carolina chapter of the Sierra Club and national resource director with the League of Women Voters, said the vote marked a great day for South Carolinians. Brown lives in Florence, near the plant's intended site.

Ben Moore with the Coastal Conservation League said the decision "positioned South Carolina well to develop the state's next chapter when it comes to energy, and that is no longer going to be coal."

And from Blan Holman, senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center: "It is fitting that on this last day of the Cash for Clunkers program, the Santee Cooper board has spared South Carolinians from buying a ... clunker coal plant."
Read more at the Post and Courier.

August 24, 2009

Santee Cooper nixes plan for coal plant

Santee Cooper nixes plan for coal plant

Sammy Fretwell - McClatchy Newspapers

PINOPOLIS -- Santee Cooper will not pursue construction of a controversial coal-fired power plant that has drawn intense opposition from environmentalists over the amount of mercury and greenhouse gas pollution the facility would release.

A committee of the state-owned utility voted this morning to suspend an effort to secure permits for the $2.2 billion plant in Florence County along the Great Pee Dee River. The full Santee Cooper board is expected to ratify the vote at noon today.

The agency's action makes it unlikely the plant will ever be built, said Santee Cooper board Chairman O.L. Thompson.

Read more

August 23, 2009

End is Near

Utility chief: we may pull the plug on coal-fired plant

Santee Cooper’s board chairman said Friday the utility might not need a coal-fired power plant in the Pee Dee region if a handful of South Carolina electric cooperatives buy their power from rival Duke Energy.

O.L. Thompson, who heads the 11-member governing board, said the panel is expected to take action Monday on whether to allow a representative of the cooperatives, which are supplied by Santee Cooper, to strike a deal with Duke on their behalf.

If five Upstate cooperatives begin receiving energy from Duke instead of Santee Cooper, it will free capacity for his utility, Thompson said.

“If that load comes off, we may not need Pee Dee,” Thompson said of the proposed Florence County power plant. “If the economy stays like it’s projected to stay, that might be enough to keep us out of Pee Dee.”

Santee Cooper has long said it needs the $2.2 billion power station to meet future demands until a new nuclear plant can be built north of Columbia. But critics say the slow economy, the environmental impact of burning coal and expensive new federal regulations make it important to abandon the complex along the Great Pee Dee River.

Thompson spoke with The State a day after the newspaper reported Duke was in discussions to supply power to cooperatives Santee Cooper serves.

The chairman said he doubts the Santee Cooper board would vote Monday to drop the coal plant or make a final decision any time soon because the Duke agreement might take time.

But he said the utility “might delay it or put it on hold.”

Read more here

August 22, 2009

Coal Plant Plan Toppling

Exclusive: Energy deal may kill coal plant plan

South Carolina’s electric cooperatives are negotiating to buy power from Duke Energy in a move that could be the death knell for a planned coal-burning power plant near Florence.

The plant, proposed by state-owned Santee Cooper, has drawn waves of opposition over its potentially negative environmental impact and $2.2 billion cost. But Santee Cooper and supporters have long maintained the plant would provide much-needed power and jobs to economically depressed eastern South Carolina.

Now, the Central Electric Power Cooperative — a major customer of Santee Cooper — is talking with the North Carolina-based Duke about buying energy for five of its 20 member companies, said Dukes Scott, director of the S.C. Office of Regulatory Staff.

If the cooperatives complete a deal with Duke, it could eliminate the need for the power station Santee Cooper has proposed along the Great Pee Dee River, said Scott and three sources familiar with the negotiations.


Electric cooperatives are motivated to buy from Duke because they believe it will be cheaper than helping pay for a new coal plant in Florence County, energy experts said Thursday.

Scott said his agency supports the sale because it would keep retail costs down for customers. His agency looks at customer interests in rate cases and other utility matters for investor-owned utilities, which include Duke but not the state-owned Santee Cooper.


Ann Timberlake, director of the Conservation Voters of South Carolina, said cooperatives are doing the right thing in discussing a purchase of energy from Duke.

“This is very exciting news and confirms some things we’ve been hearing for a while,’’ Timberlake said. “It’s hard for them to justify to their customers the risky investment in coal if there is a viable option.’’

It’s unclear what energy source Duke would use to supply power to the cooperatives, but the company has two nuclear plants near Charlotte and is building a coal-fired plant nearby.

In many states, plans to build coal-fired power stations have been scrapped because of the environmental consequences associated with burning fossil fuels. Buying from Duke would allow South Carolina to avoid the problems of dealing with potentially harmful air pollution from the proposed Pee Dee plant.

Environmentalists have waged a steady campaign against the plant during the past two years and have challenged state permits for the plant in court.

Read more here.