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Lawmakers review SC’s electric grid in aftermath of Texas winter storm

Updated: Mar. 2, 2021 at 8:01 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - On Tuesday, lawmakers discussed South Carolina’s electric grid and its ability to withstand winter storms like the one that left millions in Texas without power. It comes in the wake of Governor Henry McMaster directing the Office of Regulatory Staff to review the state’s public and private power grid.

The Office of Regulatory Staff said they hope to have a draft of its review to the State Regulation of Public Utilities Review Committee by September, and their final report to them by the end of the year.

In the meantime, the committee got to ask questions and hear from South Carolina’s major energy supplier about what happened in Texas that left millions without power or massive electricity bills, and how does South Carolina make sure that it never happens here regardless of a winter vortex.

“The situation in Texas was a tragedy with the loss of life and long-term consequences,” Dominion Energy Director of Electric Transmissions Lee Xanthakos said. “Our thoughts are with the Texas families struggling to recover and working hard to move forward. As we think about their awful situation, we can’t help but wonder if the same could happen to us. For example, was the situation avoidable? Can that happen here? What can we do to prevent it?”

Duke Energy, Dominion Energy, and Santee Cooper all made presentations in short saying that South Carolina is different from Texas in a few big ways and is better prepared.

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The biggest difference they highlighted is the grid design, with the companies comparing Texas to being an island in that it has its own interconnection, whereas South Carolina is part of the Eastern Interconnection. This means South Carolina is able to import and export energy from many states along the east coast, which is critical during inclement weather.

“Texas utilities all reside on a local Texas grid,” Xanthakos said. “This is known as the Texas interconnection, and it stands alone and disconnected from utilities in other states.”

Second, the prices are regulated here in South Carolina unlike most of Texas, so people can’t be charged thousands of dollars depending on the demand for energy as was seen over the last few weeks in parts of the Lone Star state.

“Texas is a completely deregulated market with retail choice,” Duke Energy Senior VP Nelson Peeler said. “That means that the energy for ERCOT, which is the operator for that market, is supplied by literally hundreds of merchant generators.”

Energy providers said that’s why some Texans were seeing energy bills that spiked to thousands of dollars a day.

“You wouldn’t see anything like that (in South Carolina),” Xanthakos said. “The rates the customers would pay for electricity on a frigid cold day would be the same they would pay on a beautiful April or September day.”

The third big difference is the companies said they’ve learned from South Carolina’s previous severe winter storms, and unlike Texas, they have winterized their power plans to withstand colder temperatures if that day comes.

The Office of Regulatory Staff will be conducting a formal review over the coming months to investigate any threats to the system and areas from improvement. The companies admitted that while they’ve made strides, there is always room for improvement to make sure they are prepared.

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