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Going nuclear

September 03, 2015   By Willard Strong in Energy Matters

Santee Cooper has been strategically and proactively working to reduce emissions through a number of initiatives, including closing four coal units at Jefferies and Grainger generating stations, adding renewables, providing customers with rebate-centered energy efficiency programs — and constructing new nuclear units. 

The October 2012 announcement to retire the Jefferies and Grainger generating stations marked the first time in Santee Cooper's 70-year generating history that it slated a baseload facility for decommissioning. Not much lasts forever in this world, and Jefferies and Grainger were reliable performers that served our customers well, beginning in the 1950s.

The decision to build baseload generation is one of the most important — if not the most important — decision an electric utility makes. Constructing a power plant requires planning, permitting and sometimes, perseverance.

There are challenges along the way. With 468 megawatts of power that is now gone from Santee Cooper's grid forever, what to replace that power with is particularly critical in today's generation world.

As many of you know, Santee Cooper and its long-time nuclear partner, SCE&G, have chosen to build two nuclear units at V.C. Summer Nuclear Station in Fairfield County. Unit 1 at Summer Station has been in service since 1983, and Santee Cooper owns one-third of the generating capability at the 966-MW facility. It has performed well.

By mid-2020, both of the new units being built are slated to be in service, with a total of 2,234 MW of capacity. Nuclear is virtually emissions-free and Santee Cooper will receive 40 percent of the output from new nuclear units. (We currently own 45 percent and SCE&G is slated to purchase 5 percent from us once the units are online.)

Historically, fuel for a nuclear reactor has not been subject to the typical shifting and often volatile pricing of, for example, natural gas. Natural gas is a relative bargain now. But that economical gate can easily and quickly swing the other way. History has taught us that. It wasn't that long ago when Santee Cooper did not run its natural gas generation very much because of the cost of fuel.

Equally significant is the role nuclear power will play in our ability to meet stringent carbon dioxide emission limits under the new Clean Power Plan. Eyeing eventual carbon limits was a consideration when we decided to build new nuclear nearly a decade ago, and because of that Santee Cooper and South Carolina are better positioned than many utilities and states as we face the CPP requirements in the years to come.

Big decisions are often hard, and deciding to invest in nuclear power was about as big as they get. One must think long term, and these new units will pay dividends with emissions-free power for decades to come. One can breathe easier over that.

Photo: On July 23, 2015, SCE&G and its partners placed the 2.4-million pound CA01 module that will house a number of major components in the first of two new nuclear plants at the V.C. Summer site. The CA01 module is a multi-compartment steel structure within the Unit 2 containment vessel. It is approximately 90 feet long, 95 feet wide, and 80 feet high. [Via]