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74 years of generating electricity

February 17, 2016   By Willard Strong in Santee Cooper History

Santee Cooper is observing a historical milestone this week: the 74th anniversary of generating our first electricity, which occurred at Unit 2, a hydroelectric turbine, on Feb. 17, 1942, at what was then known as the Pinopolis Power Plant.

The dream of the Santee Cooper Hydroelectric and Navigation Project had been realized.

Early 1942 was an uncertain time in our nervous nation. The U.S. had entered World War II only a few months prior, following the devastating attack on Pearl Harbor, on Dec. 7, 1941. The two lakes, then known as the Santee Reservoir and the Pinopolis Reservoir, had begun filling up on Nov. 12, 1941, only a few weeks before war was declared on Japan and Germany.

Formally entering the fight against the Axis powers is a part of Santee Cooper’s history. That first flow of power went to a defense contractor in North Charleston: the Pittsburgh Metallurgical Co., located on the banks of the Cooper River. They made ferrochromium, a specialty defense metal used to harden steel for battleships and tanks.

Of course, demand for this product was way up and Uncle Sam, early in 1941, declared Santee Cooper a national defense project. This accelerated the completion of the project, particularly in Lake Marion.

After that first flow of power, other hydro turbines at the Pinopolis Power Plant entered service in 1942, and the facility was renamed the Jefferies Hydroelectric Station in 1966. It honors Richard M. Jefferies, Santee Cooper’s second chief executive who served from 1943 until his death in 1964. He was also a state senator from Walterboro. Embedded in the Jefferies Hydro is the Pinopolis Lock, a 75-foot high, single-lift lock at allows watercraft to traverse to and from the lakes, Tailrace Canal and port of Charleston. Thus, the lock is, depending on your destination, the “Gateway to Charleston” or the “Gateway to the Santee Cooper Lakes.”

The lock and hydro plant are still in operation today, a testament to how things were built back then, and how Santee Cooper has maintained those facilities that benefit the public today.