Santee Cooper‘s Winyah Steam Generation Plant, located in Georgetown, was built in 1975 with just one power-producing unit. It now has four turbines which produce 1,200 megawatts of electricity, making it the largest coal-fired facility in South Carolina. The plant is located in the Winyah General Station off US 17 (map). This picture was taken from the top of the Sylvan Rosen Bridge which crosses the Sampit River.
Santee Cooper is an electric and water utility owned by the state of South Carolina. It serves over 160,000 customers in Berkeley, Georgetown and Horry counties. It also generates power distributed by 20 South Carolina electric cooperatives in all 46 counties. Over 1.8 million SC residents receive their power directly or indirectly from Santee Cooper, making the company an important part of our state’s infrastructure and future.
Coal-burning plants around the state have been a center of controversy for many years. Several that belong to Santee Cooper were targeted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) after many violations of the Federal Clean Air Act were discovered. Santee Cooper did not follow the New Source Review Program when its new construction did not include the installation of the required pollution controls and increased emissions of air pollution resulted.
As a penalty, Santee Cooper must spend at least $400 million by 2012 to install pollution control devices and decrease emissions at all its coal plants. According to the EPA, coal-fired power plants account for nearly 70 percent of sulfur dioxide emissions and 30 percent of nitrogen oxide emissions nationwide each year. These toxic chemicals have been said to cause cancer, birth defects, and brain damage, and the ruling against Santee Cooper is part of the EPA’s effort to clean up old and outdated coal plants.
Despite this track record, Santee Cooper recently applied for permits to construct and operate a new coal power plant on a 2,709-acre tract of land in Florence County near the Pee Dee River. This has enraged many citizens in South Carolina as worries mount over pollution and health dangers. The SC Says No website featured a statewide petition to stop the construction of the coal plant, as well as a list of groups who are opposed to it. Santee Cooper says the plant is necessary to keep up with growing energy demands and will comply with all environmental regulations.
On a brighter note, Santee Cooper has also initiated an ongoing study of wind energy in Georgetown. Santee Cooper has formed the Palmetto Wind Research Project to determine if there is enough offshore wind to build a wind farm off South Carolina’s coast. It is projected that 11,000 jobs could be created in the future if SC embraces wind technology. There are no offshore wind farms anywhere in the United States, which makes South Carolina a pioneer in this area of green energy.