A lot has happened since South Carolina’s spectacularly failed, government-run utility Santee Cooper unveiled its so-called “reform” plan earlier this year – none of it particularly good for the beleaguered bureaucracy.
Even if you were among those willing to give this truth-averse, debt-addled, “rogue agency” the benefit of the doubt regarding its projections – the simple fact is the math was never going to work.
Santee Cooper was never going to be able to dig itself out of its current, multi-billion dollar hole … at least not without dramatically raising rates on residential consumers and/ or further compromising its anti-competitive market position with larger industrial clients.
Also, let us not forget why the utility landed in this hole to begin with: The NukeGate debacle. The botched construction of a pair of next-generation nuclear reactors in Jenkinsville, S.C., NukeGate was (is) the definitional command economic failure – one recklessly pushed by S.C. General Assembly (which should have been focused on offloading the utility to the private sector).
All told, $10 billion was spent on these two reactors – which were supposed to have come online in 2016 and 2017, respectively.
Obviously, that didn’t happen …
Additionally, Santee executives knew in 2016 (and perhaps earlier) this project was doomed and allegedly concealed this critical information from regulators and the public while continuing to raise rates and rack up additional debt. Specifically, the utility flat out lied on bond documents … and attempted to raise rates on its customers just a week before pulling the plug on the project.
Now Santee Cooper wants us to take it at its word? Please …
In the months since the utility’s tone-deaf leaders rolled out their latest smoke-and-mirrors machinations, the Santee Cooper “reform” fantasy continues to evaporate.
First, the utility’s already desperate financial situation has grown absolutely disastrous in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Also, the fact the pandemic is hitting the state’s tourism epicenter (i.e. the heart of Santee’s service area) harder than other areas of the state has only compounded the damage.
How has the utility responded to all of this? Business as usual, of course …
On Sunday, however, a bombshell was dropped that Santee Cooper cannot ignore or explain away. It is, quite simply, a death blow to any credible “reform” plan – one that savages the underlying cost-saving assumptions of the utility’s proposal while simultaneously shredding its promises of a “greener” future.
When Virginia-based Dominion Energy and North Carolina-based Duke Energy announced their intention to pull the plug on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, Santee Cooper’s hopes of self-reform went up in smoke.
As we noted in our coverage of the Dominion/ Duke announcement, “the natural gas boom remains the nation’s best hope to continue reducing carbon emissions as renewable sources continue to develop.”
Which is why we supported the pipeline …
In a column last spring, we referred to natural gas as the “real hero” of the American energy revolution of the last decade – not to mention the “real reason there are fewer coal-burning plants” in America.
As for Santee Cooper, using natural gas as a “bridge” energy source was its only hope …
In a February 2020 release touting its reform plan, Santee Cooper promised savings of $2.7 billion over the next two decades thanks to “a greener energy mix and other efficiencies.”
Specifically, the plan called for the utility to “close the four coal-fired units at Winyah Generating Station” in Georgetown, S.C. beginning in 2023.
Taking such steps would “reduce Santee Cooper’s carbon emissions by 43 percent compared to 2005 numbers and save money without sacrificing reliability,” according to the utility.
RELATED || About That Santee Cooper Rate Freeze …
In an October 2019 release outlining its “path forward” with regard to natural gas, Santee Cooper said it anticipated “building 500 megawatts (MWs) of natural gas generation by 2027 and another 500 MWs by the early 2030s – which would require new gas supply in South Carolina.”
Wait … where would this “new gas supply” come from?
You guessed it … the now-scrapped pipeline.
“Santee Cooper will be monitoring construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline over the coming years,” the release stated, an acknowledgment that its weaning off of coal would be driven in large part by natural gas transported to the southeast from the Marcellus Shale – which according to a 2012 report (.pdf) from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) contained a staggering 141 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas.
This gas is no longer en route …
So … are Santee Cooper’s plans still feasible in the aftermath of the pipeline cancellation?
No … not even remotely. Which means the utility is locked into the production of dirty, expensive energy for decades longer than it previously anticipated …
“The radical environmentalists (have) succeeded in keeping Santee Cooper’s coal burning plants operational much longer than they would have been if the ACP were completed,” one lawmaker who is following the ongoing developments told us.
“The (Santee Cooper) plan is untenable,” one energy industry source agreed. “They put too many eggs in that basket.”
How will state lawmakers (including an influential cabal of Santee Cooper advocates) respond? We shall see …
More importantly … how will America respond to the grave threat being posed to its energy grid by eco-radicals?
Our nation is proving incapable at building nuclear reactors. Our politicians are refusing to even consider drilling offshore (or at least determining how much oil and gas is recoverable there). And now eco-radicals are blocking the construction of gas pipelines that would reduce our reliance on coal.
These are troubling long-term developments for American energy independence …
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