Enjoying Utility Competition: From Greer to Batesburg

July 27, 2018

Oran P. Smith, Ph.D

Senior Fellow

As a kid growing up in Greer, I used to love to open my bedroom windows in the fall and enjoy the crisp, fall air. Sometimes in the summer, when the air wasn’t so cool, I would help nature a bit by cranking up the attic fan. Remember those?

One evening after dark, through that open window, looking up from my homework, I saw the lightning flash. It turned out to be quite a storm. After a minute or two, I could see all the lights in the house next door go dark. In our house, the lights flickered, but the power stayed on. That seemed curious to my childish mind, so I hunted down my dad and asked a kid’s favorite question: “Why?” Turns out, the neighbors (also named Smith, yes it is a common name) were on Greer Municipal power while we were on Duke. One provider’s substation or transformer failed (or was struck by lightning), the other’s survived. Two homes side by side on different electricity providers. Even then, I thought that was pretty cool.

Fast forward twenty years. I had moved to the Midlands to serve in the Campbell Administration and eventually started a family of my own in Leesville (also known as Batesburg-Leesville or just “B-L”). There was a storm story here as well: every time it rained, telecommunications would fail. No matter what I tried, rain meant slow internet and scratchy landline phone service. Frustrated, I was able to do something few in South Carolina could do at the time: I switched to another phone provider. Both Bellsouth (now AT&T) and PBT (now Comporium) served my home. AT&T had a junction in my backyard right of way and PBT had cable running through the front.

What are the chances? My childhood home had electricity choice and the place I raised my family had telecom choice.

As Palmetto Promise Institute has been studying the future of Santee Cooper and SCANA after the V.C. Summer debacle, the idea of a consumer being able to choose his or her electricity provider is a concept we just can’t shake. (We are all about freedom after all!)

Every industry that has been deregulated—airlines, trucking, natural gas—has thrived. Prices have fallen and service has improved for sure. But even more attractive than price and service is the surety of innovation. For the entire time between when I lived as a child in Greer to the time I settled as an adult in B-L, cell phone technology was in existence. It was ready to go. But a phone in your pocket didn’t exist while just one company controlled all telecom.

Imagine the price, service, and innovation that would come from multiple providers competing to generate, distribute and transmit electricity to you. Imagine multiple utilities competing for the electricity you might generate in the back forty turned solar energy farm! For families and for business, energy choice would be transformative.

As the accompanying graphic indicates, our electric rates in South Carolina are higher than our neighbors. That’s why we think energy choice is an idea whose time has come. Stay tuned for our ideas on how to make it happen all over the Palmetto State, not just in Greer and B-L.