State lawmakers chisel out position
By Brett McLaughlin (Contact / Staff Bio)
January 14, 2009

Rep. Bill Sandifer, R-Seneca, addresses the issue of state energy needs during a briefing with media representatives in Columbia.

COLUMBIA — With a half-billion dollar budget deficit staring them in the face, it would be reasonable to assume that members of the South Carolina General Assembly don’t have time for anything but finances.

That’s not the case, however.

From Senate Pro Tempore Glenn McConnell to Rep. Bill Sandifer, R-Seneca, energy is very much on the minds of state leaders. So much so that early and decisive action was promised to a room full of reporters last week.

“If the federal government approves the ‘cap and trade’ policy (being endorsed by President-elect Barack Obama), the consequence could be profound,” McConnell warned, adding that average home heating costs could go up from $30 to $600 annually.

The cap and trade program being suggested would set limits on industrial emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide. Companies that emit more than their allowance must buy “carbon credits” from businesses whose emissions are under their allotment. Over time, the government ratchets down the allowance for all industry, which will increase the cost of emissions. The coal industry, a primary source for generating electricity in South Carolina, would likely be hit hardest by such a policy.

McConnell said that because of South Carolina’s reliance on heat pumps for home heating, the state is a large user of electricity. Burdensome emissions standards, he said, would not only drive up costs, but could result in blackouts or rolling brownouts by 2012.

“The great challenge facing our state and nation is to come up with a reliable, affordable energy alternative,” the senate leader said.

Sandifer, who chairs the House Labor, Commerce and Industry Committee that oversees utility issues, said a draft report outlining the state’s energy needs and concerns should be finished this week. He has advocated hand delivering the report to the state’s congressional delegation to drive home the dire consequences of a cap and trade policy.

“Our committee is fairly unanimous in our feeling about the need for more nuclear generation and the need to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels,” Sandifer said.

“However, we are rapidly approaching negative numbers in terms of our demand versus our production capability,” he added. “As a growing state, that is a real possibility.”

While supporting more nuclear generation, Sandifer said a new nuclear plant costs $10 billion and could take 10-13 years to come online. That, he said, requires the legislature support clean coal production and prompted his individual support for moving forward quickly with a coal-fired plant being developed by Santee-Cooper in Florence County.

“I’m not advocating a lot of coal-fired plants,” Sandifer said, “but we need to move ahead on this one.”

Sandifer also dismissed a call Monday by the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce and the South Carolina Wildlife Federation for an open review of the proposed Santee-Cooper plant.

The groups argued that final construction costs could exceed $4 billion if Santee Cooper builds two coal plants for which it has requested permits, and said that one plant would emit 10 million tons of carbon dioxide per year.

“We can and must do better for our small businesses and people than a financial black hole, 30-year pollution machine for a 3-year manageable problem,” a statement by the two organizations said.

Sandifer characterized the Small Business Chamber as a “fringe group, frequently at odds with the traditional business community.” He reiterated his position that the Santee-Cooper plant will have the “cleanest coal technology available today” and reiterated McConnell’s warning of blackouts or rolling brownouts.