If you’re reading this by electric light, you can probably thank Santee Cooper.
South Carolina’s oldest state-owned electric and water utility--known formally as the S.C. Public Service Authority--was created in 1934 as part of the federal government’s rural electrification and public works project.
The utility, which first generated electricity in February 1942, created lakes Marion and Moultrie, 40-plus miles of dams and dikes, and the world’s highest single-lift navigation lock at the time.
Santee Cooper’s mission is “to improve the lives of all South Carolinians, and we do that through providing low-cost power and water, environment stewardship and economic development endeavors,” Director of Public Relations Nicole Aiello said.
The public power provider is the primary source of electricity for approximately two million people in all 46 South Carolina counties, and also provides wholesale water through the Santee Cooper Regional Water System and Lake Marion Regional Water System.
• More than 180,658 residential and commercial customers directly in Berkeley, Georgetown and Horry counties;
• Twenty electric cooperatives;
• The cities of Bamberg and Georgetown
• A group of 27 industrial customers such as Joint Base Charleston;
• The Alabama Municipal Electric Authority;
• Ten member cities that form the Piedmont Municipal Power Agency.
Santee Cooper is the state leader in generating renewable power, with 107 megawatts online.
“We were the first utility in South Carolina to offer ‘green power’ and community solar to our customers,” Aiello said. “We also help customers use less electricity through our ‘Reduce The Use’ energy efficiency program.”
In keeping with its mission, the utility assists with loans for infrastructure and speculative buildings, bringing industries and jobs to the state. It also offers a revolving loan program, providing up to $5 million in loans to local governments and economic development groups served by Santee Cooper, its wholesale customers and the state's electric cooperatives.
Santee Cooper creates its own power through a hydro-powered plant, plus coal and nuclear generation. “We also have renewable generation such as solar, landfill gas and, in North Myrtle Beach, a wind turbine. We transfer that power to our co-ops and they distribute it to their customers,” Aiello said.
“Our aim is to provide reliable, low-cost and environmentally sound power, not only to our direct residential and commercial customers but also our industrial and wholesale customers. We keep a really close eye on the market and if we can purchase electricity more cheaply than we can produce it, we will purchase it in the best interests of our customers,” she explained.
Santee Cooper is committed to developing more renewable energy resources. At Bell Bay solar farm, five miles outside of Conway, engineers designed the tilt of the panels to get the most energy from the sun during the utility’s summer peak usage.
“We’re also working on another solar farm in Myrtle Beach near the airport. We will study the best way to angle the panels so there’s no glare and doesn’t affect airplane traffic,” Aiello said.
“We’ll be working with the Federal Aviation Authority and other permitting agencies to make this work, but that could open up other opportunities to use that open land near airports.”
In recent news, Santee Cooper is spearheading the development of Camp Hall, a master-planned industrial/commerce park centrally located in Berkeley County between highways 176 and 178.
Unlike most multiple-business campuses, Camp Hall “will have walking trails, a medical facility, gas station, fire station, dining areas, daycare and open spaces for community events,” Aiello said.
“This is for the next generation [of workers] because they want more work life balance. We’re building it for the employees, but the community can also use the amenities.”
Santee Cooper employs 1,745 people. “It’s a great place to work because it’s a family atmosphere,” Aiello said. “We’re working for the customers, and our employees are dedicated to doing the right thing.
“The people who work here are your neighbors; they volunteer and are involved in the community,” she added. “We have employees who volunteer for youth sports and the schools their children attend, Relay for Life and the American Heart Association. We also host regular American Red Cross blood drives.”
Santee Cooper has “been in this community for 84 years. We have the community’s best interests at heart because we’re part of the community,” she said.
Santee Cooper is governed by a 12-member Board of Directors appointed by the Governor, screened by the Senate Public Utilities Review Committee, and confirmed by the Senate.
The directors represent each of the state’s seven congressional districts; one from each of the three direct-serve counties; two directors with previous electric cooperative experience; and a chairman appointed at large. There are currently two vacant seats.
Current board members are; Acting Chairman William A. Finn, 1st Congressional District, Mount Pleasant, S.C.; Second Vice-Chairman, Barry Wynn, 4th Congressional District, Spartanburg; Kristofer Clark, 3rd Congressional District, Easley; Merrell W. Floyd, 7th Congressional District, Conway; J. Calhoun Land IV, 6th Congressional District, Manning; Stephen Mudge, At-Large, Clemson; Peggy H. Pinnell, Berkeley County, Moncks Corner; Dan J. Ray, Georgetown County, Georgetown; David F. Singleton, Horry County, Myrtle Beach; Herb Leaird, 5th Congressional District, Sumpter..