Santee Cooper hearing: People want renewable fuels, not coal

Jun 5 - McClatchy-Tribune Regional News - Claudia Lauer The Sun News, Myrtle
Beach, S.C.

Many of the customers who commented during public hearings this week
about Santee Cooper's proposed rate hike weren't opposed to the idea of
paying more for their electricity, but several were opposed to how that
electricity might be produced.

The base rate hike would be implemented in two November rounds, this
year and next, and would include increased energy rates during peak summer
months. The average rate hike for all residents would be $6.47 a month
starting in November, and an additional $8 a month in November 2010, but
that number does not include potential increases in fuel costs. Many who
commented at the public hearings said they would support the rate increase
if the money were spent on renewable energy sources.

"I do favor energy efficiency and conservation over expanding
traditional energy production," said Aaron Rucker, a customer from Little
River. "I'm worried that the increase in rates has a lot to do with funding
the nuclear and coal plant efforts."

Representatives of Santee Cooper said the increase is going to be used
to fund an expected increase in energy needs over the next decade. Part of
that need will be met with coal and nuclear energy.

Mollie Gore, a spokeswoman for the utility company, said the revenue
generated by the increase has not been broken down by the type of energy it
will fund.

Based on Santee Cooper's annual report, the revenue requirements from
2009 to 2011 for nuclear energy improvements is $1.5 billion. For the
proposed coal plant, $462,000 will be needed, and $720,000 is required for
general improvements to the distribution system for all energy sources.

Nancy Cave, the Northeast office director for the Coastal Conservation
League, asked the utility to sign on to three initiatives, including an
energy efficiency standard that would reduce 10 percent of energy sales by
2020, a renewable energy standard that would require 10 percent or more of
energy produced to come from renewable sources by 2020, and a pledge to
reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent by 2020 and by 80 percent by

"If they implemented the first two, then the coal plant wouldn't be
necessary," Cave said.

Other residents asked the utility to consider increasing its efforts
to make consumers aware of energy efficiency programs and measures they can
take part in. A few asked that the company make net metering possible for
customers who produce their own energy to receive discounts.

The utility offers a green power program in which customers can opt to
pay $3 for a block of green energy production. Laura Varn, vice president of
corporate communications for Santee Cooper, said while 80 percent of
customers polled said they supported the initiative, only 1 percent of all
customers opted to pay the extra $3 on their bill.

"We have a goal of 40 percent of our energy by 2020 being produced by
nongreenhouse-gas-emitting sources, such as nuclear, biomass, conservation
and efficiency. It fits in with our balanced approach," said Gore.

"Some of the things being discussed in Washington D.C., which sounds
similar to what Ms. Cave is proposing, we would have to raise our rates by
30 to 50 percent to make that happen."

Gore said Santee Cooper has partnered with Coastal Carolina University
and Clemson University to study alternative energy.

Company officials said Thursday the utility's job is not to research
green energy.

The plan Residential standard plus plan: using 1,200 kilowatt-hours in
the winter and 1,400 in the summer

2009 increase -- averages $11.75 a month

2010 increase -- averages $9.48 a month

Residential standard plan: using 700 kwh in the winter and 1,200 in
the summer

2009 increase -- averages $3.51 a month

2010 increase -- averages $7.29 a month

Commercial customers classified as medium size

2009 increase -- averages $117.82 a month

2010 increase -- averages $116.94 a month

Contact CLAUDIA LAUER at 626-0301.