Press Release | July 1, 2008

Response to Santee Cooper’s July 1, 2008 announcement regarding mercury and the 2008 Energy Generation Plan

Comments from Southern Environmental Law Center:

Santee Cooper’s announcement that its coal plant will spew 57 pounds of mercury next to the Pee Dee River only confirms that it would be one of the dirtiest plants in the country. Just last week, a similarly sized plant, proposed by Dominion Power in Wise County, Virginia, was given a permit to emit only 4 pounds of mercury – or ten times less than what Santee Cooper says is the “maximum” it can do. Another coal plant, run by Reliant, in Pennsylvania, emits only one pound of mercury per year. These plants are of a similar size and run on dirtier fuels. Small amounts of mercury can contaminate large amounts of water and fish. What Santee Cooper claims as its best is ten times worse than others are doing. No amount of public relations lipstick will make this pig pretty.

Santee Cooper’s mercury “education” campaign is an extension of its $600,000 PR campaign and is nothing more than an effort to deflect blame from its role as the state’s single biggest mercury emitter. There simply is no disputing that coal-fired power plants are the largest source of mercury in the United States. And as Santee Cooper knows, studies directed by EPA show that 70% or more of local mercury contamination comes from local and regional coal burning sources and reducing local mercury emissions reduces mercury levels in local fish, which are the pathway for mercury contamination in people. To suggest that most local mercury comes from coal plants in west China rather than from mercury-belching plants in South Carolina defies common sense, and sound science. Santee Cooper needs to help solve our state’s mercury problem, not make it worse.

The real news in Santee Cooper’s new Generation Plan is that it shows a natural gas power plant being as cost-competitive with a coal plant, given likely carbon costs of $20/ton. Compared to a coal plant, a gas powered station would emit almost no mercury and would emit hundreds and thousands of tons per year less of particulate soot and nitrous oxides. Florence is already bumping up against air quality violations that could severely impair economic development and harm people’s health. Rather than pursue a coal plant would make existing air quality problems worse, Santee Cooper needs to pursue energy solution that are good for the economy and people’s health. Every other utility in South Carolina has sworn off coal except our state-owned utility. It’s time Santee Cooper caught up with the rest

Comments from Coastal Conservation League:

Santee Cooper’s new Generation Plan shows that it continues to ignore the benefits of using energy more efficiently. With a commitment to reducing demand for electricity by 1% annually, Santee Cooper could substantially avoid the need for a new coal plant. While other utilities across the nation are meeting and exceeding this goal, Santee Cooper’s “aggressive” energy efficiency programs are savings less than 0.01% a year.

By neglecting opportunities to use energy more efficiently, Santee Cooper’s new Generation Plan commits its customers to a coal plant that will cost billions to build and to operate — costs which the utility will pass on to its customers. At a time of historically high energy prices, Santee Cooper should be doing all it can to help customers save money on their electric bill.

As one of the largest emitters of mercury in the state, Santee Cooper is partly to blame for the current mercury crisis in South Carolina. But while other utilities in our state have sworn off new coal plants, Santee Cooper will be adding to the problem. Santee Cooper has announced that its proposed coal plant will release another 57 pounds of mercury in our state every year.

This new source of mercury will further impair the State’s rivers and increase the number of fish species that South Carolinians cannot catch and eat. As a result, Santee Cooper is putting the state’s most vulnerable populations at risk – those living below the poverty level and African American communities that fish our state’s rivers for their food.

Instead of pursuing solutions such as energy efficiency that would reduce its role in South Carolina’s mercury pollution, Santee Cooper is launching a media campaign to persuade citizens that it isn’t a problem. Our state-owned utility should be spending its money on solutions, not spin.

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