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 are funneling billions of dollars out of the state each year. South Carolina, like many Southeastern states, sends more than 8 billion dollars out of state for energy resources annually to provide power. But there are local opportunities that can help shift that equation to keep more of our money in-state.
South Carolina’s power companies–South Carolina Electric & Gas, Duke Energy, state-owned Santee Cooper, and the 20 electric cooperatives–serve the energy needs of South Carolinians. The electricity portfolio is approximately 51% nuclear, 31% coal, 14% natural gas, 2% hydro, and 2% other renewables.
Although several local governments and some members of the Legislature are beginning to take action, more leadership is needed from South Carolina’s elected officials. 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 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.
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.
The sun provides free and unlimited energy, and South Carolina has excellent solar power potential. Yet, despite this potential and the fact that South Carolina offers residential customers a 25% investment tax credit for going solar, the total solar capacity in the state was less than 8 megawatts (MW) at the end of 2013. But the tide may finally be turning in the Palmetto state. Following lengthy and unprecedented collaboration between utilities, industry, advocacy groups and others, legislation was proposed and passed unanimously in 2014 which has the potential to finally put South Carolina on the solar map. Act 236 includes several provisions: 1) it allows utilities to propose “Distributed Energy Resource Programs” which they can rate base, but which must result in accounting for 2% of the utility’s peak capacity by 2021; it expands on net metering so that larger customers can net meter and more net metering capacity can be on the grid; and it allows for solar third-party leasing – a form of third-party financing – which has been a critical element of enabling distributed solar development across the country.
The different components of the Act are connected, and hinge on a utility proposing a program (that is ultimately approved by the PSC), as well as making a determination on the the value (and associated methodology) that net metering has on non-solar customers. As of March 2015, utilities had submitted proposals for Distributed Energy Programs, and a settlement agreement was achieved to allow for net metering to continue at the retail rate until at least 2020. Once the Programs are approved, net metering is expanded, and solar leasing allowed, we anticipate a major new page for solar development in South Carolina that could result in several hundred megawatts of capacity being installed over the next ~5+ years.
Our analysis shows South Carolina has a significant amount of commercially available and sustainable biopower capacity based on various biomass resources. Utilizing any of these resources will need to be done carefully and require thorough assessments of need, resource availability and other demands, water use, biodiversity, carbon, soil quality, air quality and other economic and environmental impacts. Many projects have been proposed for the state, but the prospects for their development remain unclear, based on factors including resource availability, federal regulations and laws, financing and environmental impacts. You can read more about bioenergy here.
With the second highest percentage of nuclear power of any state in the country, 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. In fact, some of us are already paying more on our monthly bills to finance the expensive new reactors in Jenkinsville.
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.
There are a total of 12 coal plants in South Carolina primarily owned by Santee Cooper and SCE&G, but Progress Energy and Duke Energy each own one coal plant (Robinson and W.S. Lee respectively) in the state. 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. In 2010, 36.2% of South Carolina’s power came from coal. Although coal has declined over the past decade from 42% in 2000, it is still a dominant part of South Carolina’s energy mix.You can read more about solar 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. The ash is mostly dumped in unlined pits near waterways where it can easily pollute water used for drinking, fishing and recreation. Despite this threat, South Carolina lacks many basic safeguards to protect public health and water resources from this toxic waste. Check out this fact sheet to learn more about coal ash in South Carolina.
Related Resources & Partner Organizations
Coastal Conservation League CCL is a SC-based nonprofit organization, dedicated to protecting the natural environment of the South Carolina coastal plain and to enhance the quality of life in our communities by working with individuals, businesses and government to ensure balanced solutions.
Conservation Voters of South Carolina The mission of Conservation Voters of South Carolina is to make conservation and environmental issues a top priority among South Carolina’s elected leaders.
Clemson University Restoration Institute and Wind Turbine Drivetrain Testing Facility Clemson University perate a facility capable of full-scale, highly accelerated testing of next-generation wind turbine drive-train technology.
South Carolina Energy Office The South Carolina Energy Office, through the Plan for State Energy Policy, provides a broad range of resources designed to help citizens, businesses, and public entities save energy – and money – through greater efficiency, better information and enhanced environmental quality.
South Carolina Wildlife Federation The South Carolina Wildlife Federation, SCWF, promotes effective habitat conservation and respect for outdoor traditions through statewide leadership, education, advocacy and partnerships. SCWF has been leading in engaging climate and energy discussions in South Carolina.
- South Carolina Climate Energy and Commerce Advisory Committee (CECAC)
- SC Energy Office
- SC Biomass Council
- SC Forestry Association
- Palmetto State Clean Fuels Coalition
- SAFER Alliance (Southern Agriculture and Forest Energy Resources Alliance)