A wide group of stakeholders are working on South Carolina's inaugural energy plan that will serve as a road map for the Palmetto State going forward.
Such a plan has been part of state law since 1992, but one has never existed. The state's Office of Regulatory Staff is the chief agency writing the plan, but it will be developed with the help of electric and natural gas companies, clean energy advocates, and others.
The groups involved already know each other: They've worked on what is now a law driving renewable energy in South Carolina. They also were a part of the state's working group on how to comply with the Obama administration's signature Clean Power Plan.
The state has put those plans on hold now that the rule is tied up in court, said Jim Beasley, a spokesman with the state's Department of Health and Environmental Control. DHEC has shifted focus to work on the state energy plan, he said.
"These efforts will be beneficial and inform future regulatory requirements under the Clean Air Act and ensure South Carolina will be well positioned to comply in the most reliable, affordable manner," he said in an emailed statement.
Clean Power Plan compliance and the state's energy plan are separate but linked in a way. The federal rule requires states to reduce carbon emissions from existing power plants by way of increasing natural gas and renewable energy. South Carolina's energy plan also will look at clean energy options at the large power generation scale all the way down to the customer level.
The comprehensive plan will take into account costs, access to long-term energy supplies and economic development. All energy options are on the table.
"This is new ground," said Dukes Scott, executive director of the Office of Regulatory Staff, which represents consumers in utility issues.
Scott wants to have a draft by the summer. It will be available for public comment after that, he said.
The Legislature's Public Utilities Review Committee also must review the plan. The PSC is not directly involved, though Scott said it's likely if new policies develop from the plan that the agency will have to review and approve them.
All hands on deck
Stakeholders already have been meeting in large and small groups. The state's largest electric companies, which include two regulated ones and a public utility, acknowledged their involvement in the plan but did not comment beyond broad statements.
Those interviewed by EnergyWire called the plan "monumental" and a critical moment in the state's energy planning.
"It does involve all stakeholders, and so there will be a good opportunity to consider all points as this process continues. It is too early, though, to talk about potential outcomes," said Mollie Gore, a Santee Cooper spokeswoman.
A spokesman for Scana Corp.'s South Carolina Electric & Gas Co. said he hopes the plan can help shape a positive energy future for the state.
Two issues likely to be discussed are nuclear energy and energy efficiency. Nuclear has to remain on the table in part because South Carolina pushed to have its two under-construction units be considered as part of its compliance path for the Clean Power Plan, one environmental advocate said.
"No doubt that will be part of the discussion," said Blan Holman, a Charleston-based attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center.
The plan requires that renewable energy, energy conservation and environmental quality be a part of the mix. Holman said this leaves plenty of opportunity for the state to beef up energy efficiency measures.
A goal would be to model energy efficiency opportunities to figure out practical ways that customers can save electricity and money, and electric companies can curb the amount of megawatts that go onto the grid.
"It's getting past the free light bulbs and into programs that require more planning and more commitment but deal with even greater benefits in terms of customer satisfaction," he said.
Duke Energy Corp. continues to pursue the federal license to build and operate nuclear units in Cherokee County, near the North Carolina border, spokesman Ryan Mosier said. It's unclear how soon or whether those reactors would be built, however.
Duke also isn't advocating for any particular type of generation at this point when it comes to the statewide plan, he said. "We're sharing as much information as we can," Mosier said. "We want a plan that moves the state forward."
Kristi E. Swartz, E&E reporter
Published: Wednesday, March 30, 2016