A Disservice for Thanksgiving: South Carolina Public Service Commission Approves Dominion Energy Plan

Approved plan doubles down on costly fracked gas going into the holidays

Ricky Junquera, ricky.junquera@sierraclub.org

SOUTH CAROLINA -- Just before Thanksgiving, the South Carolina Public Service Commission (SCPSC) approved the Dominion Energy South Carolina (DESC) Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) in its entirety, only requiring that DESC “fully address” the Office of Regulatory Staff’s’ limited recommendations in its 2024 IRP update. 

In the approved plan, Dominion chose not to consider 100% clean energy scenarios to replace its aging Williams coal plant, instead deciding to sink millions of dollars into a massive gas plant to be co-owned with Santee Cooper. One of the largest impacts to customer bills through the pandemic, and now during hard economic times, has been the rising cost of gas. That, coupled with federal legislation spurring higher investments in renewable energy generation across the country, gave environmental groups hope that fuel costs would be in customers’ rearview mirrors.

“This decision by the SCPSC is concerning as we head into another holiday season remembering last year’s devastating winter storm that saw our coal and gas infrastructure fail us. Now we see no consideration for moving away from fossil generation, even with federal incentives spurring renewable energy generation and battery storage. It feels like as customers we can never catch a break,” said Priscilla Preston, Sierra Club South Carolina Chapter Vice Chair & Dominion Energy SC Customer.

The Public Service Commission made the decision not to require Dominion to re-file its plan to fix the blatant bias towards fracked gas, and they are also not requiring Dominion to address these errors in its upcoming March 2024 updated plan:

  • Evaluate one portfolio that replaces Williams with 100% clean energy. Disregarding the potential of solar and battery storage technologies is shortsighted and risks missing out on the federal and reduced operating economic benefits of renewable energy. These reliable technologies have shown rapid advancements and cost reductions in recent years, making them great economic options for transitioning away from fossil fuels. 
  • Evaluate the impacts of the EPA proposed Section 111 Greenhouse Gas Rule including stricter requirements on coal plants operating past 2035 and existing and new gas plants. If implemented, Section 111 Rules will increase the cost of operating new and existing fossil plants and customer bills will skyrocket.
  • Incorporate the Inflation Reduction Act energy community bonus credit of 10%
  • Including higher levels of energy efficiency. Failing to explore and implement these effective strategies of demand side management (DSM) overlooks a critical avenue for reducing overall energy consumption and alleviating strain on the grid during peak periods. Dominion also refuses to consider the Inflation Reduction Act’s influence on its DSM programs, missing a valuable opportunity to truly account for the benefits that the IRA will bring to South Carolina.
  • Increase the annual build limits for solar resources from 300MW to at least 660MW and allow the model to select 4-hour and 8-hour battery storage resources
  • Properly assign the transmission upgrade costs to new gas infrastructure rather than coal retirement decisions
  • Move forward with a definitive retirement plan for the Wateree coal plant. By refusing to lock in a clean energy alternative for Wateree, Dominion is neglecting innovative technologies like solar and battery storage, and the utility misses an opportunity to drive technological advancements and foster job creation in the rapidly growing renewable energy sector. 

“While Dominion is still scheduled to retire the Wateree coal plant by the end of 2028, it continues to refuse to commit to replacing Wateree with battery storage. Even though it admits replacing Wateree with battery storage is the most economical replacement, they’d rather evaluate the option of replacing it with an expensive gas combustion turbine,” said Paul Black, Sierra Club’s  South Carolina Field Organizer. “The PSC’s decision also delays the retirement of the Williams coal plant just so Dominion and Santee Cooper can build a large fracked gas plant together. When will our state learn the lesson that doubling down on fossil fuels is a bad bet?” 

Starting December 4, the PSC will hold a hearing on the Santee Cooper IRP, which will be the public-owned utility’s first time going through this process. This hearing provides an opportunity to evaluate the utility’s proposed energy plan. Santee Cooper shouldn't be allowed to ignore its own analysis. Their analysis shows that it is more economical to retire the Winyah coal plant at the end of 2028 and avoid Effluent Limitation Guidelines costs set federally to protect Americans from high levels of pollution. Additionally, the Cross coal plant should not continue running until 2052--especially in light of the proposed Section 111 rules, which show that it is more economical to retire Cross no later than 2034. Community members hope this hearing will provide the opportunity to take a closer look at the costs of the proposed shared gas plant with Dominion  - costs that don’t match Dominion’s numbers for the same project. At a minimum, Santee Cooper should be required to use the same capital cost assumptions for the shared gas plant as Dominion, to not skew the results.

About the Sierra Club

The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with millions of members and supporters. In addition to protecting every person's right to get outdoors and access the healing power of nature, the Sierra Club works to promote clean energy, safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and legal action. For more information, visit www.sierraclub.org.