WASHINGTON – Pending global warming legislation could create serious problems for South Carolina because of the state’s dependence on coal-fired power plants, a report released Wednesday warned.
State lawmakers who ordered the report came to Washington to tell South Carolina’s congressional delegation Wednesday that harsh restrictions could cause regular brownouts by 2016 and make electricity unaffordable for many in South Carolina, one of the nation’s poorest states.
Advisers to President Barack Obama and congressional leaders say they plan to move quickly to pass “cap and trade” restrictions on climate-changing gases like carbon dioxide.
About 61 percent of electricity generated in South Carolina comes from coal-fired power plants, according to the report from a state legislative committee that oversees public utilities. The U.S. average is 49 percent.
Coal produces far more CO2 than any other fuel source commonly used to generate electricity.
State Sen. Glenn McConnell, R-Charleston, said states that use very little coal and more renewable resources to generate electricity — like California –- will have an easier time meeting new carbon mandates than South Carolina.
“We hope they don’t pass a cap and trade program that is ‘one size fits all.’ That will have disastrous consequences for South Carolinians pocketbooks,” he said.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said that for South Carolina and other coal-dependent states to convince the administration and Congress that they deserve special consideration, the states must first show they are willing to reduce energy consumption.
Only four other states use more electricity per person than South Carolina. Combined with its higher-than-average dependence on coal, South Carolina has one of the largest per-capita carbon footprints in the nation, officials said.
“They need to come up with a statewide plan to help on the consumption area. It’s tough for us to go to our colleagues and say we have a unique situation here when South Carolina has such a large carbon footprint,” Graham said.
Rather than moving away from coal, South Carolina utility Santee Cooper is moving forward with plans to build a new coal-fired plant near Florence.
“It’s somewhat ironic that they’re saying ‘We’re so dependent on coal, please give us a break, and, oh, by the way, we’re building another coal plant,’” said Bruce Nilles, director of the Sierra Club’s national coal campaign.
“The things people are doing right now to make the problem worse should get punished — not rewarded,” he said.
Environmentalists say the state should put more emphasis on alternative sources that put little or no CO2 into the atmosphere –- wind and solar, for example.
But supporters of the coal plant argue that alternative technologies will not provide enough power to meet the state’s growing energy needs in the short term.
“We are working towards alternative sources of energy,” said Rep. Henry Brown, R-S.C. He said the state needs to tap cleaner burning natural gas resources off the coast of South Carolina.
But Brown said the state needs time to develop alternative fuel sources, and climate change legislation should take into account that the state lags behind others.
“To make it fair, we have to have a standard that is flexible enough to fit each state, not one size fits all,” he said.