State-owned utility Santee Cooper signed off on a new rate Friday to help attract new or expanding industries by offering them savings on their electric bills.

The Moncks Corner-based agency's board of directors also approved two grant programs totaling $42.5 million to recruit industry throughout the Palmetto State.

The new "economic development" rate for large industry could lower power bills by as much as 30 percent initially for new or expanding businesses with a required minimum of two megawatts of new electric load, enough to power about 2,000 homes.

To qualify, industries must also make a $1 million investment or hire at least 50 new employees. The rate is designed to provide the biggest benefit over a company's start-up years and gradually taper off over six years.

Eligible companies must commit to a 10-year electric contract and other provisions of Santee Cooper's industrial rate schedule.

The utility already has a special rate for industries requiring at least one megawatt of load and employing 35 people or making a $500,000 capital investment. That incentive can lower total bills initially by about 20 percent. It tapers off over five years.

One of the newly approved grants will go to the S.C. Power Team Site Readiness Fund. It will award up to $6 million a year for projects in areas served by the state's electric cooperatives.

Also, a new Santee Cooper Municipal Site Readiness Fund of $2.5 million a year will offer grants for similar projects in South Carolina municipalities served as wholesale customers by the utility.

Money from the two funds is available for five years.

All grants require a 100 percent match, and all assets must be owned by a government entity or subdivision and be served by either an electric cooperative or municipal customer of Santee Cooper.

"Site selectors have many options in placing a new industry, and Santee Cooper is committed to helping localities stand out from the competition," said Lonnie Carter, Santee Cooper's president and CEO. "This money will move projects from almost-ready to open-for-business. These grants will also address areas of our state that are most in need of jobs and capital investment."

A vacant building that isn't quite ready to move into is one example of a project that could be eligible for the grant money, said Santee Cooper spokeswoman Mollie Gore.

"The locality can apply for a grant, and we would take a look at it," she said.

The eligibility requirements will include a strong potential for immediate or short-term job creation and capital investment. Another key factor is the location of the project.

Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524 or