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.”

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