During the summer, Santee Cooper sponsors an environmental internship program, with about a dozen college students from around the state. The students are usually exceptional and have a lot of interest in “all things environmental.” Their rotation of assignments through the company gives them a chance to see many ways that Santee Cooper balances the needs of its customers, the constraints of regulations, and a corporate intention to support the environment wherever possible.
Working with youthful zeal has its challenges, and the challenges are sometimes to my own belief system and self-esteem. How is it that when we were young everything was possible and it was all so clear how we should get there? Working one-on-one with a summer intern cross-examines what our Renewables Department has accomplished. Some days you are blessed with a teachable moment or maybe a “Eureka!” reaction from an intern. They hear about our list of renewable projects at Santee Cooper — the six landfill gas-to-energy sites that are operating, the anaerobic digester projects just getting ramped up, and the solar projects around the state. It isn’t until you really get them probing the details that they gain the appreciation for how constrained all this can be.
The other day was a good day. Our intern was doing some research on landfills and digesters, and she asked some excellent questions about the finances of the projects. Together we probed around the motivations of the various parties involved. The realization dawned that better results can be obtained when all parties at the bargaining table are motivated to develop a project. Stated another way, there has to be a balance in benefits so that the project and others like it will succeed. If the incentives are all to one negotiator and others are pushed to participate, the project will likely proceed in a clunky, lopsided manner. Finding the middle ground where the participants are satisfied will ensure that the project has a positive outcome, with room for give and take where needed.
Our student understood that Santee Cooper willingly develops renewable projects with others who want to participate, and that translates to a project with no single Big Winner, but many winners who walk away with a reasonable reward, including our customers.