SACE | Southern Alliance for Clean Energy
State Energy Overview
South Carolina has immense opportunities for clean, renewable energy and is on the front lines of impacts from climate change. Yet on the other hand, it is currently heavily invested in conventional, risky and costly energy sources that cost us billions of dollars. South Carolina, like many Southeastern states, sends more than 8 billion dollars out of state annually for energy fuels like coal, natural gas, and petroleum. But there are local clean energy opportunities that can help shift that equation to keep more of our money in-state while creating jobs and promoting clean air and water.
South Carolinian’s energy needs are provided by 47 electric utilities, including South Carolina Electric & Gas, Duke Energy, Santee Cooper, 21 electric cooperatives, and 21 municipal utilities. The state electricity portfolio is approximately 57% nuclear, 26% coal, 12% natural gas, 3% hydro, and 2% other renewables, although energy projects in the works will significantly alter this portfolio in years to come.
With abundant potential for energy efficiency, and power from wind, solar, and biomass, South Carolina can move decidedly in the direction of clean and renewable energy sources—but not without an engaged citizenry and proactive leaders.
Energy Efficiency: Energy efficiency can dramatically reduce the amount of power we use in our homes and businesses and lower our bills. South Carolina has many untapped opportunities to benefit from energy efficiency. You can read more about energy efficiency by visiting our Learn About Energy Efficiency page here.
Solar: The sun provides free and unlimited fuel, and after years of lagging behind other states, solar power is now rising in South Carolina. The cost of solar has fallen dramatically in recent years, and combined with state policy such as the 25% investment tax credit (on top of the federal tax credit), and the state’s landmark solar policy passed in 2014, Act 236, solar power is now more attractive than ever.
The total solar capacity in the state was less than 8 megawatts (MW) at the end of 2013, but now is over 65 MW, with hundreds more megawatts able to be developed in years to come, representing a billion-dollar opportunity. At the same time, solar jobs have grown exponentially in South Carolina, with 1,000 jobs created in South Carolina in 2016 alone. South Carolina is now home to 56 solar companies: 11 manufacturers, 5 manufacturing facilities, 22 contractor/installers, 10 project developers, 6 distributors and 7 engaged in other solar activities including financing, engineering and legal support. This growth points to the critical importance of setting good solar policy to build a good business environment.
Wind: South Carolina has some of the best offshore wind energy potential in the entire country, yet we have no wind farms currently built. A study managed by the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy suggests that the resources off of South Carolina’s coast could supply more than 100% of the electricity the state currently uses each year. Moreover, advances in wind energy technology have made huge amounts of onshore wind economically attractive in South Carolina. South Carolina is already one of the top wind energy manufacturing states in our region, employing nearly 3,000 workers in the wind industry, and new opportunities could create thousands more jobs for South Carolinians. The state also has excellent academic institutions researching wind and dedicated teams of advocates, which sets up South Carolina to be a wind energy leader. With new wind turbine technology, over 10,000 megawatts (MW) of land-based wind potential currently exist in South Carolina. Developing just one gigawatt of wind energy capacity (1,000 MW) in South Carolina (just 10% of the state’s onshore potential) could power more than 255,500 homes a year! Learn more about South Carolina’s wind energy potential here.
Nuclear: With the second highest percentage of nuclear power of any state in the country, and two more nuclear reactors currently under construction, South Carolinians face rising electricity prices and water-intensive energy production. Nuclear power is expensive and risky–so expensive and risky that Wall Street won’t finance new nuclear reactors. So instead, our utilities pass the costs on to the ratepayers to pay on monthly bills. The new reactors under construction in Jenkinsville for SCE&G and Santee Cooper comes with a massive price tag of over $14 billion and is already $4 billion over budget. 19% of SCE&G customers’ bills now goes to just to cover the project’s financing.
Nuclear power is an extremely risky and expensive way to boil water to generate electricity. Though nuclear power plants do not release carbon dioxide like coal plants, they do release radioactive and hazardous materials, including long-lived, highly radioactive waste, that threaten our security, jeopardize our health and pollute our natural resources. The consequences of an accident or terrorist attack at a nuclear power plant could be devastating. Nuclear plants are also huge water users that deplete limited and precious water resources. Building new nuclear generation is a waste of the valuable time and money needed to address global warming and a missed opportunity to invest in real renewable solutions that can benefit our state’s economy for generations to come. You can read more about nuclear by visiting our Learn About Nuclear page, here.
Coal: There are a total of 12 coal plants in South Carolina, owned by Santee Cooper, SCE&G, and Duke Energy. W.S. Lee is slated to retire units 1-3 by 2018 under Duke Energy’s Cliffside settlement agreement in North Carolina. South Carolina utilities spend a total of about $1.1 billion on coal each year. On the list of the top 15 states for coal health impacts, South Carolina appears at number 13. There are 283 deaths and a mortality risk of 8.4 per 100,000 adults related to pollution from coal plants in the state. You can read more about coal power by visiting our Learn About Coal page, here.
In addition to creating air pollution, South Carolina’s power plants produce nearly 2.2 million tons of toxic coal ash every year. South Carolina’s three primary power utilities, SCE&G, Duke Energy, and Santee Cooper, have agreed to remove all coal ash from unlined pits throughout the state–approximately 20 million tons in total. The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) led the charge representing SACE, Riverkeepers, and other advocacy organizations in a series of lawsuits from 2012–2015.
South Carolina’s utilities are proving that excavation can be done relatively quickly and that it creates huge positive results for the environment. Santee Cooper, which SELC sued on behalf of SACE, Waccamaw Riverkeeper, and the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League in 2012, is ahead of schedule, having already removed one-third of its ash. Since SCE&G started removing coal ash from the Wateree power plant site, arsenic at two wells beneath the ash pond decreased by over 90 percent. SELC and the Catawba Riverkeeper won cleanup at Wateree through a 2012 lawsuit.
A combination of legal pressure from SELC and public advocacy pushed Duke to remove coal ash from its waterfront coal ash pits at two sites in South Carolina. It’s noteworthy that the majority of action on coal ash in South Carolina was achieved without the intervention of the state’s environmental regulator.
Offshore Drilling: South Carolina relies upon the health and beauty of the sea and the shoreline for our world-class coastal industries such as tourism and fishing. Offshore drilling would jeopardize the vitality of our coast with the threat of pollution from oil spills and the industrialization of our coastline with infrastructure such as pipelines and refineries.
Offshore drilling–and the risky exploration process known as seismic airgun blasting–has been proposed for the Southeast Atlantic coast several times in recent years, however popular opposition has so far prevented it from becoming a reality.
Looking ahead, SACE is prepared to work with partners to once again fight and win the battle against offshore drilling, as we have in the past, as well as pushing to reduce our need for oil by increasing the efficiency of our vehicles, and using biofuels and electric vehicles. Learn more about offshore drilling on our Learn About Offshore Drilling page here.
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