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.

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