Renewable Energy

S.C. Deal Sets New Bar for Solar

By Cathy Cash | ECT Staff Writer Published: September 16th, 2013

South Carolina cooperatives and Santee Cooper inked a deal to build the state’s largest solar energy farm to date and expect it to begin providing electricity by the end of the year.

South Carolina co-ops approved a deal with Santee Cooper to develop state’s largest solar farm. (Photo By: Getty Images)

South Carolina co-ops approved a deal with Santee Cooper to develop state’s largest solar farm. (Photo By: Getty Images)

The 3,000-kilowatt solar farm will be built in Coastal Electric Cooperative’s territory in Colleton County. A vendor for the installation and operation of the plant is expected to be named soon.

Central Electric Power Cooperative in Columbia approved the project Sept. 11, following the Santee Cooper Board of Directors’ authorization Sept. 10, which culminated months of planning and development.

“We will soon have a testing ground where new ideas can become reality in the actual market environment,” said Mike Couick, president and CEO of The Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina.

Unlike many states, South Carolina imposes no renewable energy standard on utilities within its borders. Yet the cooperatives began pursuing this project to learn how to maximize the benefits of intermittent “green” energy for their members. They asked Santee Cooper, which supplies 95 percent of their wholesale power, to partner on the project.

Ron Calcaterra, president and CEO of Central Electric Power Cooperative, the wholesale power and transmission aggregator of 20 co-ops, noted that solar technology “has come a long way” but still presents “some real challenges.”

“It’s not ‘on’ all the time—it’s intermittent—because the sun doesn’t shine all the time. And compared to conventional generation, it costs more, even after factoring in tax incentives,” said Calcaterra. “That’s why we’re doing this, to learn how we can minimize the cost to our members.”

The agreement reflects a 12-year partnership between the state’s co-ops and Santee Cooper to cultivate renewable energy from South Carolina’s resources. Santee Cooper is a state-owned electric utility that serves retail and wholesale customers. Central Electric is Santee Cooper’s largest customer.

“Santee Cooper is pleased to partner with Central and the state’s electric cooperatives in planning this project, which will set a new bar for solar power in South Carolina,” said Lonnie Carter, Santee Cooper president and CEO.

“We have more than 130,000 kilowatts of renewable electricity online or under contract, all made from homegrown resources,” Carter said.

Santee Cooper issued a request for proposals that attracted 20 bids and is in the process of selecting a third party vendor to build and operate the solar farm, said Mollie Gore, corporate communications manager. Santee Cooper will have the option to purchase the electricity and distribute it through Central to member cooperatives.

A vendor is expected to be chosen “fairly soon,” Gore said. “We want this up and running by the end of the year.”

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