February 5, 2019 Read More →

Future of South Carolina coal plant up in the air

The Post and Courier:

The smokestacks of the coal-fired power plant reign over vast Lake Moultrie — by far the tallest thing in sight. Some have called the stacks the symbol of Santee Cooper country, named for the utility that runs the plant and the lake. Company executives like to tout it as their flagship.

But Santee Cooper could well be on the chopping block, as state leaders mull its sale. And the Cross Generating Station, the largest coal-burning power source left in South Carolina, would likely be one of the next uncertainties — based on what its officials and other companies plan.

It could be “repowered” as a natural gas-burning plant. It could be shuttered.

“I suppose it’s unquestioned that coal is the past and not the future,” Charlie Condon, the Santee Cooper board chairman, said. The board has put off making an assessment “whether to shutter the plant or not, go to natural gas or something else” until the Legislature decides about selling the company, he said.

Whether burning natural gas is cheaper than coal is a debated question. Usually it is cheaper. But sometimes economics can vary if there’s a large enough demand-spike for gas, such as during extreme cold weather, according to plant manager Don Cribb and others familiar with the market.

An analysis by Pacolet-Milliken, one of the bidders for Santee Cooper, contradicts that. It says the cost of burning coal at the plant is $114 million per year above market cost, or what the electricity would cost buying it off the grid. The Pacolet-Milliken analysis concludes advocating “repowering” the Cross plant as well as Santee Cooper’s Winyah plant with natural gas, along with buying smaller natural gas and hydroelectric plants.

More: Uncertainty in the air for workers at SC’s largest coal burning power plant

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