August 25, 2009

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.
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