After years of study, the federal Rural Utilities Service is once again moving ahead with plans for Central Electric Power Cooperative to run a 115-kilovolt transmission line to McClellanville to increase reliability and carrying capacity for rural eastern Charleston County.
The plan favored by Central Electric, the Belle Isle route, presents an unacceptable threat to the environmentally fragile Santee Delta. All Belle Isle options should be dropped from consideration due to the environmental, ecological and broader cultural resource considerations associated with the delta.
Two new alternative routes would avoid the delta.
One of them, the Jamestown route, would run east from Jamestown parallel to S.C. Highway 45 through the Francis Marion National Forest, then hook northeast along an existing right-of-way for a 230-KV line and a natural gas pipeline before turning southeast to McClellanville, where a new substation would be built.
The other path, called the Charity route, would start at a substation close to the Nucor steel plant near Huger and run northeast along the same power line/pipeline right of way through the national forest, then turn southeast and follow the same path as the Jamestown route to McClellanville.
If it’s determined that the power line must be built after full exploration of alternative energy proposals such as solar, national forest routes following existing rights of way should be given top consideration.
Generally, alternatives should be limited to previously disturbed lands along those already established rights of way. Specifically, the Charity alternative along the existing gas line right of way through the national forest should be recommended in order to minimize further impact to the natural landscape.
The Coastal Conservation League and other environmental groups rightly have voiced plans to oppose any solution that would include stringing new power lines across the Santee Delta.
Jason Crowley of the CCL said the league remains staunchly against the Belle Isle route but was still analyzing the environmental and habitat impacts of the two new proposals and hadn’t taken a position on them.
“We still believe (the Rural Utilities Service) hasn’t adequately explored other options such as solar and battery storage” to improve reliability, he said.
Additionally, McClellanville is beyond the regional urban growth boundary, and Mr. Crowley worried that increased capacity for electrification would only fuel “misdirected growth.” He is correct in warning against actions that would encourage development on the fringes of the metro area and worsen the Charleston area’s sprawl problems.
During previous discussions, SCE&G offered to improve its existing power distribution service coming from the south as an alternative to the Santee Delta line. An SCE&G spokesman also had expressed a willingness to work with the two co-ops on a power line alternative. But a spokesman for SCE&G successor Dominion Energy, Paul Fischer, said that while Dominion was aware of the siting process, “we have not been formally asked to participate in the project.”
The Coastal Conservation League earlier recommended that Central Electric and Berkeley Co-op avoid the transmission line altogether by providing solar power, while improving the existing system so there would be a dependable level of redundancy in case of a serious outage.
Smaller-scale improvements or alternative power sources would serve the needs of that area without the environmental destruction of towering transmission lines.
Public hearings on the proposals will be held Tuesday and Wednesday, and public comments will be accepted through Oct. 22 by email, email@example.com, or by writing to Lauren Rayburn, USDA Rural Utilities Service, 160 Zillicoa St., Ste. 2, Asheville, N.C., 28801.
Anyone concerned about the environment should attend the meetings to voice their concerns. We must protect the extremely vulnerable Santee Delta.