South Carolina long has been known as a nuclear power. With its seven nuclear reactors, South Carolina could be considered the France of U.S. energy production.
According to the federal Energy Information Administration, the state generated 56 percent of its electricity from nuclear plants in October and about 35 percent from coal. (France actually produces more than 85 percent of its juice from nuclear reactors.)
So, when the state Office of Regulatory Staff came out with a new report showing that South Carolinians get 61 percent of their electricity from coal, some did a double-take.
"I thought we had a typo," C. Dukes Scott, the agency's director, told Watchdog. "I thought we had the nuclear and coal numbers reversed."
The numbers were important because top state lawmakers, including state Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell, a Charleston Republican, began using them to show how state residents might see higher power bills if the federal government puts a tax or some other fee on carbon dioxide.
Is the 61 percent number correct?
"The federal numbers aren't wrong; they just have a different way of looking at the situation," Scott said.
The Energy Information Administration figures show how much electricity is generated in South Carolina, not where it's used.
The nation's electric grid doesn't stop at state boundaries, and utilities often send electricity generated in one state to another, he said. That's the case in South Carolina, which has large nuclear plants in Oconee County that send the bulk of their power to North Carolina.
Scott said his office's calculations focused on where South Carolinians actually get their electricity. His staff compiled data from Santee Cooper and other utilities about the sources of electricity South Carolinians use here and from neighboring states.
The result showed that South Carolinians get 61 percent of their electricity from coal and neighboring states get more electricity from nuclear power.