August 25, 2009

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.

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