State agency-led group figuring out how to keep up with SC’s rising energy demands

Published: Aug. 25, 2023 at 5:46 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Leaders in South Carolina’s energy sector say the state’s power capacity must expand.

If it does not, they warn the rolling blackouts that part of the state experienced last Christmas Eve — and which much of South Carolina narrowly avoided — could become a regular concern for years to come.

The state’s growth makes this call even more imperative.

In the last year, companies including Scout Motors, BMW, and Redwood Materials have announced they will be investing billions of dollars to build manufacturing facilities in South Carolina, particularly in the high-powered electric vehicle sector.

But those plants and others coming online, coupled with more people moving to the state and the anticipated proliferation of electric cars, means more power is going to be used.

“A lot of really good things are happening in South Carolina. But if you want it to come to a screeching halt, you just run out of generation,” Mid-Carolina Electric Cooperative CEO Bob Paulling said.

That’s why Paulling said he is making this appeal now, for the state to urgently expand its power capacity, because solutions could still be years away.

“We don’t have time to wait,” he said.

Paulling believes nuclear energy is the best long-term solution, but he calls natural gas the bridge fuel to get there.

“The problem we have in South Carolina is we don’t have enough natural gas pipelines inside the state lines,” he said.

Paulling said retired coal plants like one formerly operated by then-SCE&G in Colleton County have the infrastructure to be converted into a natural gas plant.

But clearing the permitting, regulations, and construction processes isn’t quick.

“It takes years, even a decade to get this done, so we can’t wait any longer to get it going,” he said.

He hopes a new working group called Power SC, formed by Gov. Henry McMaster through a June executive order and made up of state agency representatives, is what can bring together the state’s utilities, environmental groups, and other stakeholders to advance these conversations.

That group met for the first time Thursday in Columbia.

“If you’re building a transmission line, if you’re expanding pipeline capacity, if you’re building a new generation plant, these are not just items that take place in 12 months. These are multiyear planning efforts,” Office of Regulatory Staff Director Nanette Edwards said. “So the reason the governor has asked us, in this working group, to convene now, is to prepare for the future and to make sure that we have reliable, affordable power for our citizens and for our economic growth and prosperity.”

The Power SC group — which brings together several state agencies, including the Departments of Commerce, Transportation, Employment and Workforce, and Natural Resources — hopes to have an initial set of recommendations to the governor by the end of this year.

It will also assist the Office of Regulatory Staff as it updates South Carolina’s statewide energy plan, which is expected to be a multiyear process.

“We need to solve this problem,” Paulling said. “We need to solve it presently. We need to solve it for our kids, our grandkids, in the future. But we’ve got a present crisis on our hands that we really need to solve.”

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