Consumers will likely pay for suspended energy plant

Environmental groups are commending state-owned utility Santee Cooper for suspending its plans to build a coal-fired power plant in rural Florence County. The economy and uncertainty over the cost of possible cap-and-trade legislation are two reasons its board voted to suspend permitting for the proposed facility.
While critics of the proposed plant are commending Santee Cooper for its decision, they are also charging that consumers will have to foot the bill for part of the $242 million spent by the utility on equipment and other expenses associated with the suspended project. Nancy Cave of the Coastal Conservation League says Santee Cooper sold a bond offering on Wall Street in May and included in that bond offering was monies that would be used for any number of things including the proposed coal plant. Cave points out that Santee Cooper’s board also announced the approval of an overall average 3.4 percent base rate increase beginning November 1.”Part of this rate hearing I think is covering is to service the debt on the bond offering. As I say that bond hearing covers a lot of different aspects of Santee Cooper’s business including the proposed coal plant. I think they needed to make a decision on increasing rates because they didn’t have revenues to cover costs.”
The utility cited rising operational costs and facilities maintenance as reason for the increase. the company postponed a second rate adjustment for 2010.
Cave says environmentalists have questioned why Santee Cooper purchased equipment before knowing that the 42.2 billion facility would be permitted and built. “I think that was a business decision that they made. Now whether it as right or wrong that’s not for me to say, but at the time it was a business decision that they felt they could make a deal on the equipment I guess. then they also felt that if it wasn’t used, they could sell it.”
Santee Cooper officials say about 70 percent of the equipment has already been delivered. the utility believes it can recoup much of the money by selling the equipment to power companies most likely in other countries that use coal to produce electricity.
Cave says it’s time for state citizens to heed the call to be more energy frugal. “We are the fourth least efficient energy state in the country and that’s why we have such high electric bills. Now is the opportunity to change that. We can become more energy efficient. there are all types of programs coming both from the federal government and Santee cooper has said they will be introducing new energy efficiency programs for its customers.”
Cave says it is also time for South Carolina and the utilities that serve it to focus on the future of energy with an emphasis on clean efficient energy. “We feel very, very strongly that South Carolina needs to look at a clean energy future, and that clean energy future is going to based on energy efficiency which is the cheapest and fastest way to reduce energy demand. The state must also focus on renewable forms of energy”
The Santee Cooper board voted to extend its energy-efficiency loan program from $5.5. million to $10 million.

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