More solar would benefit Santee Cooper customers

Installers work to set up solar panels on a home.  (© Jackson Smith)

As South Carolina lawmakers begin mulling the fate of Santee Cooper, a new report shows the state-owned utility will save its customers the most money by embracing more solar power and energy-efficiency programs.

The report, commissioned by SELC and the Sierra Club, determined Santee Cooper’s continued dependence on fossil fuels, including plans to build a fracked-gas plant, will shift millions of dollars in higher costs to customers still paying for the utility’s share of a $9 billion failed nuclear plant.

To arrive at the conclusions, Synapse Energy Economics used state-of-the-art energy modeling software and examined several different energy mixes to determine renewable energy paired with energy efficiency programs is the least-cost option for Santee Cooper.

SELC Senior Attorney Blan Holman said he did not know how the numbers would shake out, but the results confirm that the rapidly falling costs of solar power mean that kind of energy is the cheapest for a utility like Santee Cooper.

The report was shared with lawmakers who will determine whether to sell the utility, reform it, or bring in a third party to manage it.

In a letter to lawmakers just ahead of the report’s release, Santee Cooper leaders said it would commit to more solar energy, but also wanted to build a new fracked-gas plant. The report shows that building a costly gas plant would risk further rate increases to customers because of fluctuating gas costs.

“This report doesn’t take a position on who should own or operate Santee Cooper, but it does show in stark terms what its energy future should be,” Holman said. “Santee Cooper customers have already been afflicted with one massive and costly power plant debacle. They can’t afford another.”

The Sierra Club said the utility’s focus should be on the least expensive energy options for its customers, after sticking them with the cost of the nuclear station that went bust.

“The embarrassment of the VC Summer debacle presents us with an opportunity to do something bold and innovative that will save money for Santee Cooper customers,” said David Rogers of the Sierra Club. “This report confirms we are at a tipping point for energy production in South Carolina. Renewable energy and customer efficiency are now the cheapest, least risky options and we should pursue them.”

The full report can be found online at https://www.southernenvironment.org/uploads/words_docs/2019_09_10_Final_Santee_Cooper_Report.pdf.

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