Colleton County to get South Carolina’s biggest solar energy project

A solar energy farm described as the largest in the state will be located in Colleton County near Walterboro, officials said Wednesday.

The project on about 20 acres will produce up to 3 megawatts of electricity on property located in the service area of Coastal Electric Cooperative.

Santee Cooper said the effort will provide an opportunity to learn the costs and potential benefits of large-scale solar power. Central Electric Cooperative is a partner in the effort.

“Santee Cooper is pleased to partner with Central and the state’s electric cooperatives in planning this project, which will set a new bar for solar power in South Carolina,” said Lonnie Carter, Santee Cooper president and CEO.

Santee Cooper currently has more than 130,00 kilowatts of renewable electricity online or under contract, he said.

Central Electric President and CEO Ron Calcaterra, said that solar power costs more than conventional power, even after factoring in tax incentives.

“That’s why we’re doing this, to learn how we can minimize the cost to our members,” he said.

The pilot project will be a tool for learning how to integrate solar power into a complex power system while still providing reliability and affordability, the utilities said in a press release.

Santee Cooper has issued a request for proposals and is reviewing bids now for a third party to construct and operate the project, with Santee Cooper having the option to purchase the electricity and distribute it through Central to member cooperatives.

Construction of the solar farm is expected to start by the end of the year.

Most of the solar power now used in South Carolina comes from the Boeing rooftop system in North Charleston, which produces 2.6 megawatts of power. It covers 10 acres of the roof of the 14-acre Boeing 787 final assembly building. South Carolina Electric & Gas and Boeing were partners in that project, which generates enough electricity to power 250 homes, according to SCE&G.

Santee Cooper, which is owned by the state, is South Carolina’s largest electricity producer. It provides power for about 2 million people in all 46 counties. “Renewables” such as solar energy account for 1 percent of the state’s power.

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