Conway coal power plant closed for good

sjones@thesunnews.comOctober 19, 2012 

— The board of directors of Santee Cooper decided Friday that the company will not reopen its Grainger generating plant in Conway.

The plant was one of two directors decided to permanently close because of the cost the company would face to make them compliant with the Environmental Protection Agency’s new Mercury and Air Toxins Standard for air emissions.

The other facility slated to close was the Jefferies coal and oil generating units in Moncks Corner. That plant’s hydroelectric generating station will continue to operate.

Santee Cooper idled the Grainger plant earlier this year and has been transferring its employees to other jobs in the company, according to information from the company. At its peak, the plant had 40 personnel and at least some of them were long-time Conway residents.

“We have employees who have been there for decades,” said Mollie Gore, Santee Cooper spokeswoman.

The Grainger plant opened in 1966 and could generate 170 megawatts of electricity.

Lonnie Carter, the company’s president and chief executive officer, said late Friday afternoon that the company has begun the process to get the information it needs to decide what will be done with its holdings in Conway.

“I know people want answers,” he said. “Unfortunately, I don’t have them.”

Carter said engineering studies are underway to determine the possible uses for the property and Lake Busbee, a large cooling pond across U.S. 501 from the plant. He said that people already have approached the company about the lake’s future.

“Different ;parties have different interests in it,” Carter said.

Conway city councilman Tom Anderson has said recently he would like to city to be able to use the lake for paddle boats and the like.

Carter said it will be six months before the company will have the final information it needs to decide what it will do with the plant, property and lake. He said that, among other things, the company must get permits for new uses for the plant site and lake from the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control.

“It’s not as easy as it sounds,” he said.

Conway city administrator Bill Graham said he had been advised by the company that the future of the plant was on the agenda for Friday’s board meeting, so he was not surprised by the announcement.

“They were trying to keep me informed as best they could,” he said.

Graham said company officials have been talking with the city about the closing process and the future of its holdings in and adjacent to the city. He said the company has promised to continue working with the city and knows that there need to be discussions to which the city will be invited before a final decision is made about the lake’s future.

Graham praised Santee Cooper as a good corporate citizen and said its employees were active in many things in the town.

“They lived and worked in our community and we certainly regret that this change was going to affect them,” he said.

But he said he was also heartened because the company plans to transfer them to other Santee Cooper jobs and facilities.

Carter said the company estimated it would cost hundreds of millions of dollars to make the plants compliant with the new standards.

Carter said the company plans to make its plans for the property public before any steps are taken to develop the property.

“We hope (the process) will be totally transparent,” he said.

Contact STEVE JONES at 444-1765.

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