Santee Cooper officials are preparing to usher in a new season of business—a future for the state-based utility provider that includes operating on solar power and natural gas instead of coal and an expedited debt payoff plan that won’t reach further into taxpayers’ wallets.

According to an announcement the company released earlier this month, the Santee Cooper Board of Directors unanimously approved a new business forecast they explained was partly motivated by public cries for increased transparency in the wake of the notorious failed nuclear reactors project.

“This forecast will increase benefits to customers, and decrease their costs,” stated Dan Ray, board chair, in a prepared press statement.

Santee Cooper, together with SCANA and owners of the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station in Fairfield County, were part of the $9 billion effort to construct two additional reactors at the site. But the project, which commenced in 2008, was halted in July 2017 due to frequent delays and rising costs. But for years prior, thousands of utility customers statewide had been paying charges, attached to their electric utility bills, to support a project they would never see completed.

But rising rates, to pay off remaining reactor debt, won’t be an issue for Santee Cooper customers as Santee Cooper said over the next five years, its new business forecast won’t include a rate fluctuation, unless it’s a reduction. To meet its goal of stable rates, Santee Cooper said it’s planning to implement more environmentally-friendly measures and “other commitments,” according to a press release.

Specifically, the plan’s focus is to amp up the utility-provider’s solar power capacity by 500 percent and increase natural gas generation. Officials said they also anticipate introducing to the state a large-scale battery storage.

Further plans include shutting down four coal-fired generating units over the next eight years at Winyah Generating Station—without laying off workers—and decreasing carbon emissions by 30 percent over the next 10 years. The Georgetown-based station will close in two phases: the first two units closing in 2023 and the other two in 2027, Santee Cooper officials said.

Over the next five years, the company will also add at least 1,150 megawatts of solar energy, including 150 megawatts by 2020 and 1,000 by 2024, the release said.

The solar energy increase would bring 200 megawatts of battery storage capability online starting in 2024 and serve as the first large-scale commitment to battery storage in the state, the release said.

Additionally, the new business forecast includes 150 megawatts of demand-side savings across Santee Cooper’s system by 2027 and another 50 megawatts between 2027 and 2037.

To preserve reliability during the closing of the coal-fired units, by 2023 Santee Cooper expects to add 100 megawatts of dual-fuel turbines and additional natural gas, as demand necessities, starting in 2027.

The board has also voted in the next two years to pay off $925 million in nuclear and cultivate savings—all without further burdening taxpayers—and have Santee Cooper hold to its current headcount, which since 2017 has been reduced by 10 percent.

“This is a comprehensive, forward-focused roadmap grounded in some of the best strategies used by progressive utilities around the country,” said Mark Bonsall, Santee Cooper president and CEO, in a statement. “These are proven technologies and practices through which Santee Cooper can better serve its customers for decades to come.”

The Department of Administration requested the 2019 business forecast to use as the base case for its H. 4287 process. Later this year, Santee Cooper will also prepare a reform plan to submit to the Department of Administration.

According to terms of the Coordination Agreement with Central Electric Power Cooperative, Santee Cooper will engage with Central on proposed generation changes at the appropriate time, as enabled by the Department of Administration.

Once the forecast’s generating resource component is fully executed, nearly 25 percent of Santee Cooper’s generation would be sustainable or non-emitting resources; about half would be owned or purchased natural gas generation, constituting a much greener portfolio than the current coal-dominant mix.