Saturday, December 15, 2007

Exaggerated Claims

Both the Florence Morning News, and less surprisingly, the Charleston Business Journal, were recently duped by a misleading Santee Cooper press event, while the Post and Courier faired somewhat better.

The event, held at Francis Marion University, touted the release of an economic impact study of the utility’s proposed coal plant. In the past, Santee Cooper has stated that construction of the plant will create about 1,000 temporary construction jobs and less than 100 full-time jobs, at least a quarter of which will be upper-management jobs sourced outside of the Pee Dee region.

At the event, Santee Cooper claimed that the plant will create over 9,000 jobs. Attendees, including the press, were understandably impressed. However, those who took the time to read Santee Cooper’s own press release – or the report, for that matter (which Santee Cooper has not made available to the public) – have reason for chagrin. From the press release:

It is important to note that for purposes of this study, the timetable was collapsed into one year. Therefore, if one worker was working on a job for five years, it is counted as five jobs for the analysis of this study.

So, the 9,000 figure is the product of double (or even quintuple counting). If you run a small business and you employ 5 people in 2006, and you end up keeping them on in 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010, how many people have you employed? If you are honest, you’d answer FIVE; if you are Santee Cooper, you would answer 25!

Why must they resort to this kind of funky accounting to justify this unpopular project?

Some more tough questions:

What happens to the economy when those 1,000 or so temporary workers finish building the plant and lose their jobs? Will the remaining 100 or so permanent employees still have a large impact on the Pee Dee’s fortunes? Wouldn’t it be better to use the 1 to 2 billion dollars this coal plant will cost for direct investment in economic development, job training, and incentives that will lead to permanent employment in the Pee Dee, instead of a coal plant?

And where will the money come from to pay all these workers? Will it come from revenues generated from products sold around the nation or the world, brining new wealth to South Carolina? Unfortunately, the answer is no. Of course it will come from Santee Cooper’s South Carolina customers, who will end up paying for the plant via increases in their electric bills. That’s like taking money out of one pocket and putting it into another. No net gain to the community or South Carolina.

Finally, who will calculate the negative costs that will result from building this plant? The lost tourism from mercury polluted waters and fish? The lost work days from mercury poisoned people? The emergency room bills from increased acute asthma? The decrease in local property values due to the pollution and unsightliness of the coal plant? The lost economic development because of restrictions on future growth in the Pee Dee (due to EPA regulations that limit growth in areas that fail to comply with air quality standards)? The increased risk from climate change to the state’s water supplies, agricultural output, and quality of life?

It won’t surprise you to hear that no one has a good answer for these questions.

Let’s not pretend a coal plant is a tool for economic development – it’s a dirty way of generating electricity, and not much else.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

These questions are right on! I bet no one has the answers to any of these tough questions because there are no good answers.