Stacks toppled amid green energy plan Santee Cooper has set goal of providing 40% if its power with nuclear, renewable sources

Controlled explosions brought down the 300-foot-tall smokestacks at Santee Cooper’s Grainger plant on Sunday.

The smokestacks at Santee Cooper’s closed Grainger plant in Conway were toppled Sunday, a symbol of the utility’s move away from coal-generated electricity to more environmentally sustainable forms of power.

Moncks Corner-based Santee Cooper has set a goal to provide at least 40 percent of its customers’ energy needs by 2020 with nuclear power, renewable resources, conservation and energy efficiency.

Meanwhile, a report from the Southern Environmental Law Center shows Santee Cooper is far ahead of schedule in cleaning up contaminated coal ash from leaking pits at the Grainger site, located on the banks of the Waccamaw River.

“Santee Cooper’s work shows that utilities throughout the South can clean up their unlined coal ash storage by moving ash to safe, dry, lined storage or recycling it for concrete,” said Frank Holleman, senior attorney for the environmental group. “The Waccamaw River and the Conway community are cleaner and safer, and all communities with unlined coal-ash pits deserve the same treatment.”

In a 2013 agreement with conservation groups, Santee Cooper said it will remove all coal ash stored in unlined pits to dry, lined storage areas away from rivers and groundwater or will recycle it for concrete. In addition to Grainger, the utility is removing coal ash at its Jeffries plant near Moncks Corner and Winyah plant near Georgetown.

Recycling efforts are furthest along at Grainger, where the 300-foot-tall smokestacks were taken down about 8 a.m. Sunday with controlled explosions as part of the plant’s demolition. Tourists traveling to nearby Myrtle Beach along U.S. Highway 501 often viewed the iconic towers as a milestone that they were close to their vacation destination.

Grainger was closed in 2012 after nearly 50 years of service, and demolition has been ongoing since then.

Through 2015, Santee Cooper has removed nearly 450,000 tons of coal ash from the Grainger site. At its current rate of removal, the coal ash will be gone at Grainger by 2019, four years ahead of schedule.

Once the rubble from the smokestacks has been removed and the demolition completed, the ground will be layered with soil, graded and covered with grass, said Santee Cooper spokeswoman Susan Mungo. The future of the site has not been determined, and Santee Cooper intends to work with the city of Conway to redevelop it for economic benefit.

Other South Carolina power utilities also are removing coal ash from their sites. Duke Energy is removing ash from a plant in Anderson County and has committed to remove all ash from an unlined pit at another in Darlington County.

South Carolina Electric & Gas has committed to remove all of its ash from unlined riverfront pits to dry, lined storage and is moving ash from its Wateree plant in Richland County.

Reach David Wren at 843-937-5550 or on Twitter at @David_Wren_