Berkeley Electric warns of costly presidential emissions mandate

By Ava Wilhite

MONCKS CORNER, S.C. (WCIV) Take action postcards are coming into Berkeley Electric by the thousands. The president of the cooperative says they are going to need even more supporters after a presidential mandate on EPA standards was issued Monday.

The EPA announced specific targets for all states Monday as part of an Obama Administration effort to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere. The proposal for the first time targets emissions from existing power plants which are the biggest source of carbon pollution.

South Carolina's 2012 carbon emission rate was almost 1,600 pounds per megawatt hour of energy produced. The new goal is just over 770 pounds.

"It would be okay if they had a solution and say we're going to cut 30 percent off your base load off and here is a reliable solution. But it's not there yet," said Co-op President Dwayne Cartwright.

The presidential mandate will require each state to cut carbon dioxide emissions by more than half by the year 2030.

Cartwright says for South Carolina that means cuts at all coal plants.

"Fifty percent of our energy is produced by fossil fuel. With the recent regulations, if we have to eliminate those facilities for base load generation, it's going to impact our rates a great deal," said Cartwright.

Preventing increases in cost to consumers is one of the reasons behind the Take Action campaign. Cartwright says they're asking their customers to fill out the card and ask Washington to consider people in rural areas who can't afford an increase in bills.

"About 50 percent of the members that are served by South Carolina co-ops are at the poverty level, so we are fighting very hard to ask administration to take a reasonable approach." he said.

Cartwright says the average South Carolina monthly electric bill would go up by $79 if there are drastic cuts to coal plants. He says they understand the environmental impact, but relying solely on renewable energy is not reliable.

"We're for a mix generation right now. We can't eliminate one and rely solely on the other simply because it's not there yet," said Cartwright.

So far he says they've collected 20,000 cards from the campaign.

Santee Cooper spokeswoman Mollie Gore says the percentage reduction proposed for South Carolina is greater those required of 47 other states.

She says the state-owned utility has cut emissions 23 percent during the past decade using the steps the Environmental Protection Agency is suggesting for a new round of emission cuts.

South Carolina Electric & Gas officials are reviewing the proposal. Spokesman Eric Boomhower says when two new nuclear reactors come on line, 60 percent of the utility's generation will come from sources that don't produce greenhouse gases.

The mandate would require each state to come up with their own plan for cutting carbon emissions by June 2016.