Featured Image Source: Post and Courier
Santee Cooper’s most recent business forecast included numerous promises for direct serve and electric coop customers.
From a five-year rate freeze to a reduced cost of power with a shift to renewable energy, the forecast laid out a plan that came across as simple, clean and easy. However, as customers and South Carolina residents started taking a closer look, they began noticing that in order to accomplish the goals laid out in the plan, a lot more time and money would be required than is being acknowledged.
As Claire Robinson, a Columbia resident wrote to the Berkeley Independent, “That all looks good on paper, but of course, the devil is in the details.”
To start with, a significant part of the business forecast is the 600-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline which is currently on hold and has been since December 2018 because of legal challenges over its federal permits. The pipeline is now waiting to be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. However, even if it is finished, it’s intended to begin in West Virginia and end in Lumberton, N.C., 21 miles away from the South Carolina border.
A recent Post and Courier article discussed the future of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline stating, “Santee Cooper’s new senior leadership team said planning is contingent on the project not being canceled or significantly delayed.”
This includes Santee Cooper’s plan for a 500-megawatt gas-fired power plant to be completed in the Pee Dee region of the state by 2027. The only stipulation is that the forecast is relying on the uncertain pipeline for gas. Charlie Duckworth, the state-owned utility’s newly hired Deputy CEO, went on record to say, “The best way to get gas to that site is the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.”
According to the Post and Courier article, “the project [Atlantic Pipeline] isn’t expected to be finished in North Carolina until late 2021, and current cost estimates are creeping up toward $7.7 billion.”
The article even caught the attention of national environmental advocacy group Sierra Club who tweeted with a quote from the piece, “Santee Cooper and the successor of the now-defunct SCE&G, Dominion Energy, have essentially acknowledged that they’ll meet our energy needs just fine without all that extra capacity.”
Even if the pipeline is completed and the state-owned utility is able to get gas to the new plant, how does the utility plan to pay for the construction of the plant all while freezing rates for five years and dealing with its current debt?
In the Berkeley Independent letter, Robinson acknowledges that without actual action Santee Cooper is just postponing the inevitable, writing “A short five years from now customers are going to be paying dearly for the executives’ decision to kick the can down the road.”
With a history of unkept promises, unfinished projects with undeliverable products, and its daily increasing debt, customers are asking Santee Cooper executives to be honest with them. It’s also important for lawmakers to take this into consideration when they start to review recommendations for the future of the state-owned utility in January 2020.