Electric co-op official offers an insider’s view on energy and industry
By Samantha Lyles
Darlington Kiwanis members heard some straight talk about energy and industry last week from guest speaker Mike Rallings, VP of engineering for Pee Dee Electric Cooperative.
With 30 years in the power industry, five of those at PDEC, Rallings spoke on a variety of topics, starting with the role of electric cooperatives in the nation’s power supply chain.
He explained that the first electric co-op was formed in 1935 to bring electricity into rural areas. There are now 20 electric cooperatives in South Carolina and 890 across the nation.
PDEC serves parts of six counties: Florence, Darlington, Marion, Dillon, Lee and Chesterfield. With approximately 33,000 power meters in service, the company sees customer growth of about 1 percent each year.
He said that most local cooperatives don’t generate power themselves; instead, they buy it from a central electric cooperative, mark it up and sell it to customers – or member-owners, as PDEC calls them. At year’s end, that markup is compared to operational costs and the difference is returned to member-owners as credits. Rallings said the average ten-year member gets an annual credit roughly equivalent to one month’s power bill.
One major distinction for Pee Dee Electric is the company’s focus on economic development. Its not-for-profit subsidiary Pee Dee Electricom owns the Pee Dee Commerce Park, a 705-acre Class-A commercial / industrial park located at the intersection of I-95 and SC Hwy 327. The park hosts production and distribution facilities for several major companies, including Ruiz Foods, G.E. Healthcare, FedEx Ground, Pepsi-Cola, and its newest tenant, Niagara Bottling.
“It’s a big new industry for us, and construction is underway. Service to the building is projected for September 1, and they should begin production by spring,” Rallings said, adding that power service to the facility should ramp up from 4 megawatts to 12 megawatts when production hits full swing.
Rallings spoke about the “many struggles” encountered by PDEC customer Fiber Industries when it took over the old Wellman plant. He said when the company found it much harder than originally thought to re-start the shuttered operation, with costs about six times higher than initial estimates.
“And just about the time they were restarting everything, COVID-19 hit and lots of their customers shut down, which basically slowed everything down to a crawl at the plant,” Rallings said, noting the company hopes to get production running again soon.
Rallings said a Bucky’s Travel Plaza will soon locate at I-95 and Hwy 327, with 100 gas pumps and three restaurants. He called the operation a “family oriented” travel stop and noted that Bucky’s has two other locations in Louisiana and Florida.
Kiwanis members quizzed Rallings about SCANA and Santee Cooper’s failed V.C. Summer nuclear plant expansion in Fairfield County. He said that in his opinion, the plant was justified at the time it was permitted, based on growth projections from 10 years ago. But as time passed, solar energy development leaped forward, fracking lowered the cost of natural gas, and population growth slowed down, so demand decreased as the project foundered. He added that a lack of qualified engineering companies complicated matters.
“There hadn’t been a new nuclear plant built anywhere in the country in so long, there wasn’t anybody to build it. So Westinghouse got the contract to build it, yet didn’t know how to build one,” Rallings said. “This is Mike’s opinion only, but it was completely mismanaged… over $4 billion in debt and nothing to show for it. The decision to mothball it I think was correct. It’s no longer needed for low growth.”
The Darlington Kiwanis Club meets every other Thursday at the Darlington Country Club at 1 p.m. Members arrive around 12:30 p.m. to enjoy food and fellowship before the presentation by a guest speaker. To learn more membership, visit their Facebook page @DarlingtonKiwanis.