South Carolina energy bill far from being a done deal

Published on May 23, 2024 by Kim Riley

© Shutterstock

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster sought fast action by state legislators on a massive energy reform bill that would ensure ample power continues to surge statewide, but lawmakers just couldn’t get it done before the legislative session ended earlier this month.

“We cannot wait,” McMaster, a Republican, told reporters at a news conference on May 13. “This is something that we cannot put off because it is upon us now.”

Now, the South Carolina Energy Security Act, H. 5118, isn’t expected to make it to the governor’s desk to potentially be signed into law until 2025. But there’s still hope for the bill when the South Carolina House of Representatives and the State Senate both return on June 5 to hash out compromises on several bills,  including H. 5118.

“I recognize the window’s closing on the utility reform bill, but I also believe it’s a priority amongst everybody,” said main bill sponsor House Speaker George Murrell Smith, Jr., (R-Sumter) during a press conference after the regular session ended. “We’ll likely have a bill because when everyone makes something a priority, it ends up happening.” 

The legislative session ended on May 9 with no decisive action on H. 5118, which the House passed earlier this year and advanced to the Senate.

However, a joint resolution was filed by the Senate, which plans to continue studying the state’s energy needs with the intent to pass a bill early next session. 

The resolution is to “reassure the utilities, the people of South Carolina, and capital markets that provide money to the energy sector that we are taking this, and will take this seriously in a comprehensive way that will address all aspects of energy generation and transmission,” said State Sen. Tom Davis (R-Beaufort), one of the bill’s sponsors.

The compromise, he added, also acknowledged the House’s efforts on the bill.

“We acknowledged the work they’ve done in regard to demonstrating that we have a capacity problem in South Carolina, that we have to upgrade our transmission, and that we have to take a hard look at gas,” Davis told reporters.

With the session ended, Gov. McMaster urged lawmakers to negotiate a compromise between the House’s version of the energy policy reform bill and the Senate’s version.

“Last December, we almost had some blackouts. We came close,” McMaster said during his news conference. “We have to have power in our state to support the needs of today and the future.”

If enacted, H. 5118 aims to improve electric reliability in South Carolina by having the General Assembly authorize construction of new energy generation.

Specifically, H. 5118 would authorize Dominion Energy and Santee Cooper, South Carolina’s public power and water utility, to build a new fossil gas power plant on the Edisto River that would be jointly financed and owned by both companies. The project would require new interstate pipelines to bring the gas in from out of state, as well as over 100 miles of upgraded electric power lines.

The measure also would encourage Duke Energy, which serves the Upstate and Pee Dee regions of the state, to build new gas-fired power plants.

The House in March voted 83-21 to approve H. 5118, and both Dominion Energy and Santee Cooper support the bill, which would help with their proposal to turn the coal-fired Canadys Power Station Plant into a natural gas facility. Such a plant, the utilities say, is a pivotal part of their “reliable, affordable and increasingly clean energy” portfolio as they try to end the burning of coal. 

If H. 5118 doesn’t become law, then Dominion Energy and Santee Cooper would not be able to transform the Canadys plant, according to Davis.

The Senate, he told reporters, would have to “take it up over the summer and fall and come back in January [2025] prepared to reach some sort of specific conclusion with the same specificity that the House did.”

Dominion Energy’s Rhonda Maree O’Banion, director of media relations and video communications, told Daily Energy Insider last month that passage of the bill would also help Dominion support energy growth in South Carolina.

“Natural gas generation is required to support reliability and supply low-cost energy for our customers,” she wrote in an email. “In short, reliable and operationally flexible natural gas generation resources are key to supporting the addition of non-dispatchable, intermittent renewable resources.”

O’Banion also pointed out that H. 5118 would ensure the state’s regulatory process doesn’t allow unnecessary and costly delays in the construction of natural gas generation in South Carolina.