July 8, 2009

Everyone must sacrifice on coal plant...

Check out this Op-ed put out from The State paper. Do you agree or disagree with several of the points listed? Do you think it's the best approach to Santee Cooper's coal?

The State
Everyone must sacrifice on coal plant
July 8, 2009

ENVIRONMENTALISTS rightly complain that a new coal-powered electricity-generating plant in the Pee Dee would spew too many poisons into the air and contribute to global climate change, and they make a strong case when they argue that a proposed federal law to regulate greenhouse emissions would significantly impact the financial assumptions behind the Santee Cooper proposal.

Clearly, we would be better off if we could avoid building yet another coal-powered electricity generating plant, in the Pee Dee or anywhere else.

But our overpowering addiction to power leaves us struggling to strike a balance between providing needed energy and protecting the environment. With power relatively cheap in South Carolina, there’s too little incentive to cut back. We love the comfort and convenience of air conditioning in the summer and heat in the winter. And perhaps in part because of Santee Cooper’s status as a largely unregulated state-owned utility, the company — and our state — is in a box:

We might be able to generate enough power — through a combination of recession-induced consumption cut-backs, increased energy efficiency and conservation measures, more aggressive alternative energy programs and perhaps even purchasing energy from other companies — to supply the needs of our still-growing state until a new nuclear plant that Santee Cooper and SCE&G hope to build can come online.

The problem is that “might” isn’t a responsible plan for something as crucial as energy, which our state has an outsized appetite for, or as dicey as building energy plants on schedule. The long lead time required to get any sort of large-scale energy-generation facility up and running means that work must go forward now to ensure that we don’t run short on power in a few years. So we simply cannot say “no” to the coal plant.

But that is not the end of the conversation. The fact is that while we have to have energy, and energy has to come from somewhere, we must find ways to reduce the environmental and health problems caused by our most reliable energy-production means. (We also have to come up with ways to reduce our dependence on foreign oil — which poses slightly different hurdles but can be addressed by similar types of responses.)

In the long term, whether this plant is ever built or not, we as a state must develop a multi-pronged approach to energy that includes conservation as well as traditional and new energy sources. And in the short term, we are convinced that the responsible way through the problem that Santee Cooper says our state is facing will require that all of us make — or at least be willing to make — some sacrifices:

1. Santee Cooper should continue work on its coal plant, but it should be prepared and willing to delay or even abandon its plans if the growth in energy demand slows enough that it can be met until a nuclear plant can come online — and state officials should find a way to ensure follow-through. This means the company could end up throwing money down a rat hole, but that cost would be insignificant compared to the cost ratepayers would face if indeed the financial legs are knocked out from under the plant — not to mention the health and environmental cost of a coal plant that could have been avoided.

2. Everybody who opposes the coal plant needs to throw their support behind the nuclear plant, in order to avoid delays and speed up approval and construction. That doesn’t mean simply giving up their opposition — which in itself would be a huge step forward for many environmental groups and individuals. It means actively and aggressively supporting the rapid approval and start-up of the plant before regulatory bodies and lawmakers. People who don’t like nuclear are going to have to come to terms with the fact that it’s the only option capable of significantly reducing our reliance on coal in the foreseeable future; you can’t say no to both.

3. Santee Cooper — and all of its competitors, for that matter — needs to work more aggressively to promote energy conservation, and the groups and individuals who oppose the coal plant need to do the same, leading by example. The same is true for the development and use of alternative energy. The reason we’re not seeing the growth we need in either conservation or alternative energy is that both come at a high price (at least initially), in terms of inconvenience and/or start-up costs. People who oppose the development of other big-ticket energy sources have an even greater obligation than we all have to put their money where their mouths are.

Meantime, state lawmakers need to consider whether we’d be in a better situation if Santee Cooper had to go through the same vetting process for its plans as SCE&G, Duke Energy and Progress Energy. The theory is that Santee Cooper doesn’t need to be regulated by the Public Service Commission because they both are part of the same state government. It’s a theory that might make sense in a normal government — one that works together as a whole, under the leadership of the governor. We do not have such a government. The PSC is independent. Santee Cooper is even more independent. And unlike municipal utilities that don’t have to answer to the PSC, Santee Cooper is not even indirectly accountable to the public, since the Legislature passed a law forbidding the governor to remove his own appointees to the board.

That examination — along with the larger discussion about creating an “all-of-the-above” energy plan for our state — is the only way to avoid a repeat of what is essentially an energy version of “too big to fail.”

To read this article, click here

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