State needs sound energy solutions
By Rep. Bill Sandifer • December 29, 2008

Americans have an insatiable appetite for energy and South Carolinians are no exception. Since Edison invented the electric light, we have continued to increase our dependence on electric energy. Think of the increasing number of appliances in the average home. Think of the increasing number of automobiles per household. As our population continues to rise and the number of households increases, energy demands grow exponentially.

To protect our citizens and ensure our excellent quality of life, South Carolina must be pro-active in finding solutions that will keep our energy flowing, protect our environment, and help our economy grow. Energy will be a long-term challenge for our state and will be one of the greatest factors affecting our economy and quality of life.

In South Carolina, we have been blessed with relatively affordable and abundant energy thanks to past decisions by legislators, business leaders and the public. Now, we stand at another critical junction in our state’s history. The scarcity of fossil fuels, skyrocketing costs and impending federal mandates make action timely and very necessary.

Gov. Mark Sanford recently received a report from his Climate, Energy and Commerce Advisory Committee, a group tasked with evaluating climate change and developing a plan of action. While the report makes positive points, I believe some of its recommendations are short-sighted and would harm our economy.

The governor has embraced studies that say that climate change is real and man-made and his panel makes sweeping recommendations to reduce our state’s carbon emissions. Meanwhile, other credible studies conclude that the climate in South Carolina is similar to what it was in the first half of the 20th century. A report by the Science and Public Policy Institute concludes that the state gets about the same amount of rain as it did a century ago, agricultural yields are rising, forest industry development and investments are at record highs, and the tourism industry is strong.

Also, the final report from the governor’s panel recommends a voluntary greenhouse gas reduction goal of 5 percent below 1990 levels, to be implemented within 12 years. While we certainly need to reduce greenhouse gases, doing so in such a time period would put great financial strain on our utilities and drive up consumer energy costs.

Additionally, the report from the governor’s committee recommends an energy portfolio standard whereby our state’s electric needs would be met with 5 percent renewables and 5 percent energy-efficiency programs by 2020. The utilities all agree that this goal will be very difficult to achieve without significant costs to the consumer. Unfortunately, the governor’s committee provides no cost impact on electric rates for these changes.

What I believe is lacking from the governor’s report and what we absolutely must address is the economic impact on South Carolina. The Institute for Energy Research estimates that legislation capping greenhouse gas emissions in South Carolina could result in a huge annual household income decline by 2020. The state also could lose somewhere between 18,000 and 28,000 jobs in that same time period, due to such legislation. With our high unemployment rate, we simply cannot afford to lose jobs. Therefore, it is imperative that the recommendations in the governor’s climate report and their underlying assumptions receive close scrutiny.

To truly deal with the energy issue, we must look at the bigger picture and address the facts, environmental impacts, and economics of the situation. To look at all of the angles, the S.C. General Assembly is taking strategic action. The Public Utility Review Committee, which I am honored to serve on, is currently working and will deliver a report to House and Senate leaders by the time General Assembly reconvenes in January. We will recommend legislative action that will be at the forefront of debate this session.

On the Public Utility Review Committee, we are looking at the broad scope of the energy issue. We are evaluating what resources our state has, how we use electricity in South Carolina, what renewable forms of energy are available, and what programs are currently in place or need to be in place to promote energy efficiency. We are also deciding what message needs to be sent to South Carolina’s Congressional delegation about the challenges our state would face if certain federal energy policies were adopted. These are all complex questions that must be addressed and I am pleased to have a part in this challenging assignment.

Working together, we can develop solutions that are real, workable and financially sound, and solutions that protect our precious environment and ensure prosperity for our state.