Duke's board of directors approved an agreement to sell power for five Upstate electrical cooperatives now served by Santee Cooper. The deal still needs approval from the N.
C. Utilities Commission, which may take several months.
Letting Duke provide up to 1,000 megawatts to the cooperatives is a key part of Santee Cooper's plan to abandon the disputed coal-fired power plant proposed for rural Florence County.
Environmentalists had fought the Santee Cooper plant because it was expected to release tons of greenhouse gases, as well as mercury in a part of the state already suffering from mercury-polluted fish. Others, including Gov. Mark Sanford, also questioned the need because of the sluggish economy.
Duke's agreement to supply power takes away enough energy demand to justify dropping the coal plant, Santee Cooper officials said. Duke previously had served the five cooperatives.
"We clearly welcome the opportunity to bring these customers back into the fold," Duke spokeswoman Paige Sheehan said.
Santee Cooper's board voted to put on hold the coal plant, saying it was too expensive at a time of increasing government regulation and lower customer demand for power. The board also agreed to let a representative of the Upstate cooperatives strike a deal with Duke for power.
The is between Duke and Central Electric Power Cooperative, which represents the Upstate cooperatives. Collectively, those cooperatives including Blue Ridge, Laurens and York serve 150,000 to 250,000 customers, according to Central.