About Santee Cooper

November 19, 2008 

The S.C. Public Service Authority is most often called Santee Cooper, for the two rivers connected by its man-made lakes

WHAT IT IS: South Carolina’s largest energy producer. State owned

REPUTATION: Known for cheap, dependable power. Prides itself in being a leader in economic development

EMPLOYEES: About 1,800

OFFICES: Moncks Corner

CUSTOMERS: 1.8 million, including Berkeley, Georgetown and Horry counties, Charleston Air Force Base and 20 electric cooperatives and their 625,000 customers in each of the 46 counties

ANNUAL REVENUES: $1 billion-plus

TAXES PAID: Pays no state or local taxes but does pay about $15 million to the state each year under a fee-in-lieu-of-taxes arrangement. Also pays almost $1.7 million in state fees annually — more than almost any other industry — for air pollution released.

OWNS: Four large coal-fired plants; proposing a new coal-fired plant and a nuclear plant. Invests billions in sophisticated computers, giant furnaces, pollution-control devices. Owns 1,273 rail cars that transport coal and leases 676 others. A car carries 116 tons of coal.

SWITCHING TO COAL: Founded in 1934 to generate electricity from water. Built its first coal plant in 1966 in Conway. It is the state’s second-largest air polluter, based on emissions fees it pays DHEC. SCE&G is first, having paid $2.3 million in fees in 2006. Santee Cooper paid $1.7 million. But Santee Cooper puts more carbon dioxide and mercury into the air than any other entity in the state.

OF NOTE: One of the most influential lobbies in the General Assembly. Its electric cooperatives and business customers stand ready to support its interests. Utility officials downplay its influence.

• Why South Carolina owns a utility

Santee Cooper’s history is the stuff of legend.

In the 1930s, with a pledge of federal money, powerful S.C. leaders got the General Assembly to pass a law creating a state-owned utility. The goal? Electrify impoverished south-central South Carolina.

Other utilities sued, arguing Santee Cooper was illegal. They didn’t want competition.

In 1938, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Santee Cooper’s legality. In 1939, land-clearing began to create two enormous lakes, Marion and Moultrie, from vast swamplands. At the time, it was the largest earth-moving project in history.

More than 1,000 residents, mostly black, were moved from 177,000 acres. Some 12,500 of the state’s unemployed worked on the $64 million project. Electricity flowed in 1941, fueling defense industries and Charleston bases key to winning World War II.

SOURCE: Santee Cooper; state Department of Health and Environmental Control; USC historian Walter Edgar’s book "History of Santee Cooper, 1934-1984"

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