September 10, 2019 Read More →

South Carolina utility changes course, plans coal plant closure and new solar generation

The Post & Courier:

Santee Cooper’s board approved a new business strategy Monday, shifting the state-run utility’s energy forecast away from coal and toward solar power and gas-fired plants.

But the board abandoned a proposed cost-saving agreement with The Southern Co. — one of the largest investor-owned utilities in the Southeast — after state officials objected to the planned partnership. Mark Bonsall, Santee Cooper’s new CEO, wanted to explore ways the two power companies could save money by jointly managing their fuel supplies, purchasing, energy trading and coal ash waste.

Bonsall’s other proposals for Santee Cooper were easier for the board members to accept. After a short presentation, the board voted unanimously on a strategy that will drastically cut the amount of power the utility generates from coal-fired plants.

The decision to shutter the coal-fired power plant comes at a time when Santee Cooper is trying to convince state lawmakers not to sell the state-run utility. The percentage of Santee Cooper’s electricity generated by coal will fall from roughly 52 percent to around 30 percent by 2033, according to the new forecast.

Most of that drop will result from Santee Cooper phasing out its Winyah Generating Station, one of its aging coal-fired plants, near Georgetown. In place of Winyah, Santee Cooper plans to add roughly 1,000 megawatts of utility-scale solar power and another 200 megawatts of battery storage, which will allow the utility to provide electricity to homes even when the sun isn’t shining.

Santee Cooper’s new leaders are also considering significant new investments in natural gas power. They want to buy smaller gas-fired turbines by 2023 to help supply power when energy usage peaks in the summer and winter months. But it’s eyeing an even larger investment in natural gas in the long term. According to the energy forecasts, Santee Cooper will explore building or purchasing larger gas-fired plants, which are capable of supplying up to 1,100 megawatts.

More: Santee Cooper board approves new energy plan, drops cost-sharing agreement

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