South Carolina needs more power and needs it sooner if the state wants to keep up with the demands of a growing population and booming economy.
That was the message utility executives and economic development leaders delivered to the state House Economic Development and Utility Modernization Ad Hoc Committee during a meeting on Oct. 18.
In opening remarks, House Speaker Murrell Smith, R-Sumter, told the committee some of his reasoning in creating it last year. He said the state was running out of electrical generation capacity thanks to the dual pressures of population and economic growth.
He added this challenge makes it necessary for the state to develop a comprehensive energy reform package.
Smith also said the Christmas Eve rolling power outages in 2022 indicated the matter is reaching a crisis point.
“The new generating facilities don’t come online overnight — we all know that,” he said. “It’s time for us to learn our lessons and move on.”
All of the above
Because of the pressing need for more electric power, utilities and policy makers need to adopt an “all of the above” approach to increasing generation capacity.
Expanding nuclear, hydroelectric, natural gas and emerging renewables such as solar and wind all need to be part of the mix going forward, according to Michael Callahan, South Carolina president of Duke Energy.
“We need power, we need a lot of it, and we need to take action today,” he told the committee.
While utilities like Duke anticipate meeting some of the intermediate-term needs for power from emerging technologies like Small Modular Reactors for new nuclear power, Callahan said expanding capacity from existing assets like Duke’s Bad Creek pumped storage hydroelectric facility in the Upstate will be key to meeting immediate needs.
“Bad Creek for us is probably the most valuable asset we have on the system today,” he said.
Duke is pursuing plans to double Bad Creek’s generating capacity from 1,400 megawatts to 2,800 megawatts. Callahan said for this and other projects to come online as quickly as possible, utilities need regulatory clarity and a permitting process devoid of unnecessary delays.
More power, more gas
In addition to new generating capacity, one of the most acute needs in the state is more natural gas, according to Keller Kissam, president of Dominion Energy South Carolina.
He explained natural gas is critical for both power generation and industrial customers. He said supply falls into two categories: interruptible gas and firm gas. Many of the state’s largest industrial customers rely on firm gas to maintain operations.
“We don’t have any more firm gas to provide,” Kissam said. “That’s pretty embarrassing.”
Demand for gas is also increasing for residential customers as the state’s population continues to increase rapidly. Kissam pointed to demand in the Myrtle Beach area, one of the fastest growing communities in the nation.
Kissam said much of that new demand is from people moving to the Palmetto State from areas where natural gas was a mainstay for residential use.
“People are moving (to Myrtle Beach) from up north — they like gas heat,” he said. “People want natural gas. I don’t care what they’re doing in New York or California banning gas, but the people down here haven’t read those news reports.”
Among the possible solutions to the gas supply problem is using existing utility rights-of-way to incrementally expand natural gas pipeline capacity, Kissam said.