South Carolina power co-ops and their members sound off over emission regs (copy)

Santee Cooper plans to shutter four coal-fired units at its Winyah Generating Station near Georgetown over the next decade. 

Santee Cooper plans to shutter one of its coal-fired power plants near Georgetown in the coming decade in an effort to transition to other energy sources and hold down costs for its electric customers. 

Mark Bonsall, the new CEO of Santee Cooper, met with employees at the Winyah Generating Station on Wednesday to inform them of the decision to phase out the four generating units. The plant employs roughly 200 workers, according to Santee Cooper. 

The decision comes at a time when Santee Cooper is trying to convince state lawmakers not to sell the state-run utility. Bonsall and other senior managers are in the process of developing a future business plan for the 80-year-old public utility. 

Santee Cooper's announcement of the Winyah closure follows a request from South Carolina's electric cooperatives — Santee Cooper's largest customers — to study whether to shut down the aging power plants earlier this year. 

The four generation units near the mouth of the Winyah Bay were built between 1975 and 1981. If they are operated full time, the units are capable of generating more than 1,100 megawatts of electricity. 

Two of those units will close by 2023, according to Santee Cooper, and the other two will be shut down by 2027. 

Spokeswoman Mollie Gore said the utility hopes the closure will not result in any layoffs. That can be accomplished, through voluntary retirements, not filling open positions and retraining employees for new jobs, she said. 

The announcement highlights Santee Cooper's — and the nation's — continued transition away from coal-fired power. In recent years, the state-run utility also shut down two other stations near Conway and Lake Moultrie.

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Santee Cooper also runs the coal-burning Cross Generating Station between Lake Moultrie and Lake Marion. It also maintains a fleet of hydroelectric facilities and the gas-powered Rainey Generating Station near the Savannah River.

Electricity from coal made up 46 percent of the energy Santee Cooper supplied in 2018. Recently, however, the state-run utility has been purchasing more electricity off the grid in place of running Winyah and its other coal-fired plants all the time. 

Santee Cooper's leaders are preparing to replace some of the power produced at Winyah with solar and other energy sources, Gore said. Specifics were not yet available. 

The utility's leaders plan to unveil a more detailed plan for how it will generate electricity in the future at a board meeting Tuesday. 

Reach Andrew Brown at 843-708-1830 or follow him on Twitter @andy_ed_brown.