Honoring 80 Years of Santee Cooper Power Generation
MONCKS CORNER, S.C. – Santee Cooper’s Jefferies Hydroelectric Station has been generating electricity for 80 years. On Feb. 17, 1942, the station first generated electricity and continues today to provide clean, renewable energy to South Carolinians.
Santee Cooper hydropower has a strong connection to wartime efforts and rural electrification. In April 1934, Governor Blackwood signed a bill to create the South Carolina Public Service Authority, known as Santee Cooper, to construct two reservoirs (Lake Marion and Lake Moultrie) and a hydroelectric plant to serve the rural South Carolina population, which in turn would spark prosperity in the Depression-ravaged state.
Construction began in 1939. Just two years later, President Roosevelt named Santee Cooper’s Pinopolis Power Plant, now Jefferies Hydroelectric Station, a national defense project and accelerated its construction as America joined World War II.
When Jefferies began generating electricity in 1942, its first customer was Pittsburgh Metallurgical Co., a defense contractor in North Charleston that made ferrochromium, a key defense metal used to harden steel for ships and tanks. Santee Cooper later served the Charleston Naval Shipyard and the Charleston Naval Base and today still serves, Joint Base Charleston.
Along with the war effort, Santee Cooper supported the people of South Carolina.
“Santee Cooper was started along with a lot of other projects to pick up jobs for this country and, in particular, for South Carolina, to improve the quality of life for the residents overall. That is still the mission today,” said Jody Perry, a 39-year Santee Cooper employee who retired in 2018 as Superintendent of Operations at Jefferies.
Jefferies is named for Richard M. Jefferies, South Carolina governor from March 1942 to January 1943 and Santee Cooper’s General Manager for 21 years.
The Santee Cooper project became the nation’s biggest land-clearing effort and the largest federal Works Progress Administration project east of the Mississippi River during the New Deal. More than 12,500 workers toiled for 27 months, clearing swamps and woodlands, building dams and dikes, and constructing a powerhouse and navigation lock. The navigation lock at the Pinopolis Dam was itself a monumental construction. A 75-foot drop from Lake Moultrie to the Tailrace Canal, it was the highest single-lift lock in the world at the time.
With its giant gears and mammoth gates, the lock system would allow boats to travel from Columbia through the Santee Cooper Lake system and lock to the Cooper River and on to Charleston. Miles of dams and dikes were built to hold back the water for release through the turbines at the Pinopolis Power Plant.
The remarkable effort of constructing the massive Santee Cooper project was considered an engineering feat in its day, and more than 65,000 people from all over the country visited the site to marvel at its construction. From start to finish, it took a mere two years, two months and 22 days. What was created was one of South Carolina’s most resource-laden assets, an important source of energy, jobs and industrial development.
The hydro units can be brought online in about five minutes, making it an important source of reserve power and important in integrating intermittent renewables. Eighty years after it came online, Jefferies Hydro remains Santee Cooper’s most economical energy source.
“One of the reasons I think Jefferies has been around for 80 years is the people. We have an employee whose grandfather worked on the land clearing as a young teenager. When you have people like that, it’s personal to them. When they come to work every day, they understand the mission. They understand why this site is here. You see that in the work they provide,” said Carey Salisbury, Renewable Generation Manager.