South Carolina’s Pee Dee Region Halts New Coal Plant
Local residents gather at the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control building on Feb. 12 protest the Pee Dee coal plant site. On Aug. 24, the utility company voted to suspend permitting for the proposed plant.
On Friday night, as the Labor Day weekend gained momentum in South Carolina’s coastal Pee Dee region, activists at the front lines of the Deep South’s energy rebellion gathered at the Bostic Landing to celebrate an event never before seen in a state that was once part of the original 13 colonies. After nearly three years of persistent public opposition to an idea that was justified on the basis of misleading environmental data and scant economic evidence, the board of directors of Santee Cooper, the Pee Dee region’s state-owned utility, announced on August 24 a halt to a proposed 1,320-megawatt coal burning power plant.
“The basic point we made was that there was no demonstrated need for this plant,” Nancy Cave, the director of the Coastal Conservation Council’s North Coast office told me in an interview. “The environmental and economic costs of this idea vastly outweighed the advantages. It was dirty, old technology electric power at a time when efficiency and new cleaner technologies were available. We just made that case and stayed on message at every opportunity we had.”
The end of the proposed $1.2 billion generating station, which Santee Cooper wanted to build along the Pee Dee River, is the 101st time in the last three years that a utility’s plans for new coal-fired plant was smothered in the United States by relentless citizen opposition The battle to defeat the plant in South Carolina, waged by a coalition that included the Coastal Conservation League, the Conservation Voters of South Carolina, the Sierra Club, and the League of Conservation Voters.
“Expensive studies uncovered fatal flaws in this project -- soft demand, untapped energy-saving programs to reduce demand, and pending federal legislation that would render the project economically unsound,” said George Johnston, a resident of Dataw Island, and a board member of the Coastal Conservation League.
The Pee Dee fight is evidence of the growing energy rebellion that is building in more than 40 states and is aimed at ending the country’s reliance on fossil fuel and speed the transition to clean, environmentally sustainable energy.
Coastal Conservation League of South Carolina representatives and supporters rally against Santee Cooper's proposed Coal-Fired Electric Generation plant the company had wanted to build on the banks of the Pee Dee river. (January 21, 2008)
Though the Pee Dee protest was one of the most-watched political fights in South Carolina, it attracted scant national media attention. The same pattern is true in other states. Dozens of protests have occurred at ratepayer hearings, prompted by the swift-rising price of electricity generated by coal-fired plants. Opposition to mountaintop removal and other environmentally reckless mining practices has galvanized environmental activists in Appalachia. Town hall meetings have been organized in dozens of communities in support of new investments and policies to manufacture clean energy equipment in the United States. Many of the nation’s cities are enacting new ordinances to speed the construction of energy-efficient buildings. And three-quarters of the public referendums to build or modernize public transit are approved each year.
These ideas have spurred a momentous confrontation in Washington, which earlier this year committed $300 billion in clean energy investment over the next two years. In late June, the U.S. House of Representatives approved the next stage of the Obama administration’s plan to speed the transition to clean energy when it narrowly approved a measure to invest in manufacturers of clean energy tools and equipment and to limit emissions of carbon and other pollutants that causes climate change. The Senate is expected to make public its climate change and energy bill before the end of the month.
But the oil, gas, coal, and utility industries are determined to block more progress. They are spending millions on a counter campaign to pressure lawmakers not to act. Aspects of that campaign include delivering opposition messages to Congress written on the stationary of progressive activist groups without their knowledge or permission. It also includes spending lavishly to hold town hall events this month in opposition to the climate and energy bill and attended by employees of mainstream energy companies and utilities.
More in later posts.
-- Keith Schneider