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Editorials represent the institutional view of the newspaper. They are written and edited by the editorial staff, which operates separately from the news department. Editorial writers are not involved in newsroom operations.

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Editorial: Will SC need gas pipeline like it needed abandoned coal, nuclear plants?

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Atlantic Coast Pipeline

In this 2017 file photo, a No Pipeline sign is posted next to the property line just feet from the center line of the route of the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline in Bolar, Va. (AP Photo/Steve Helber, File)

In 2007, Santee Cooper said it would run out of electricity to power Myrtle Beach within five years if it didn’t build a $1.2 billion coal plant on the Great Pee Dee River.

The next year, SCE&G and Santee Cooper said they wouldn’t be able to keep powering most of South Carolina unless they built two new nuclear reactors in Fairfield County.

The year after that, Santee Cooper acknowledged that, well, no, it didn’t really need the coal plant after all. It walked away from the nascent project after spending $242 million.

And in 2017, after spending $9 billion on the unfinished reactors, Santee Cooper and SCE&G walked away from them as well, citing massive cost overruns and delays — and a precipitous drop in current and projected energy demand.

In the two years since, Santee Cooper and the successor of the now-defunct SCE&G, Dominion Energy, have essentially acknowledged that they’ll meet our energy needs just fine without all that extra capacity.

We understand that utilities have to project power demand years or decades in advance, because it takes years to plan, permit and build a new power source. We understand that natural gas is far preferable to coal. And that South Carolina needs a diversified energy mix.

Still, it’s important to keep our expensive recent history in mind as Dominion, the S.C. Chamber of Commerce and the S.C. Manufacturers Alliance start laying the groundwork to argue that we have to have another natural gas pipeline extended through South Carolina to meet our future energy needs.

Dominion CEO Tom Farrell, whose company is building the $7.5 billion, 600-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline from West Virginia to North Carolina, told S.C. regulators last year that he “would like to bring the pipeline to South Carolina if the demand is there,” and “I am hopeful that it will come.”

And Chamber CEO Ted Pitts told The Post and Courier’s Andrew Brown last week: “Eventually, we are going to need additional natural gas capacity” to fuel economic development. That was right after we published a letter to that effect from Mr. Pitts and Manufacturers Alliance CEO Sara Hazzard.

It might turn out that we really do need additional natural gas capacity. Or it might turn out that we need another natural-gas pipeline about as much as we needed the coal plant and the nuclear reactors.

As the Southern Environmental Law Center’s Gregory Lander told Mr. Brown, the Transco pipeline, which runs through the Upstate, already has plenty of gas available in its 10,000-mile interstate carrier to be pumped through Dominion’s lines to other parts of South Carolina.

Extending the Atlantic Coast Pipeline through South Carolina would be expensive.

It would be environmentally risky. (Just recently, DHEC hit Dominion with a $4,000 fine for letting muddy, sediment-filled water run off a smaller pipeline it’s constructing in the Upstate and into a creek and river, clogging a public drinking water system.)

And under S.C. law, it could be built on private property without the owners’ consent, because utilities are allowed to use the power of eminent domain to force people to sell their property or rights of way to make way for natural gas pipelines. Any of those alone is reason enough to be extremely skeptical and cautious as we move forward.

Solar and wind can’t fuel all of our energy needs today, but we’ve seen in other states that they can play a larger role than they do in South Carolina. It might turn out that solar can in fact supply the additional capacity we don’t already have. If our utilities are willing to give that a try — or if the Public Service Commission and the Legislature are willing to require them to.

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