In a bid to replace coal with something more "green," state-owned Santee Cooper approved a plan Monday to buy an additional 1 percent of its power from an outfit that generates electricity by burning wood or landfill fumes.
The Moncks Corner-based utility did not set a deadline for buying the so-called green energy but Mollie Gore, corporate communications, said it already is looking at potential suppliers.
"I think our people are talking to a whole lot of people," Gore said. "This could be anything from the branches you prune off your hedges to what's left after harvesting in the forest industry. It's literally stuff that is not going anywhere else."
Gore would not provide details on potential vendors but said most are in South Carolina.
The plan calls for the utility to purchase 50 megawatts of biomass-derived power. Santee Cooper generates about 5,500 megawatts of power, roughly 15 megawatts of which come from plants that burn landfill fumes.
Though the purchase represents only a fraction of the utility's energy footprint, it would provide enough power to serve 25,000 homes.
Santee Cooper would not say how much the new electricity would cost but noted that energy from renewable sources typically sells for a premium.
"It's not anything that we consider exorbitant," Gore said.
A study commissioned in the fall by the state's 24 electric cooperatives showed that biomass — organic matter that ranges from wood chips to corn husks to chicken excrement — is South Carolina's biggest potential source of renewable energy. The report showed that the state could generate enough green energy to power up to 300,000 homes.
Santee Cooper generates four-fifths of its electricity by burning coal, and it has faced off against residents and environmental groups over plans to build another coal-burning plant in Florence County by 2013. In recent months, the utility has cast itself in a deeper shade of green.
Its 2008 budget earmarks $35 million, or 1.6 percent of all spending, for environmentally friendly initiatives, including a plan to give out $2.7 million worth of ultra- efficient light bulbs to its customers and a program in which the utility will buy power from homes with solar panels that generate excess energy.
Santee Cooper powers about 40 percent of the state directly and through a network of cooperatives.