Hats off to Wayne Washington (and his editor — I always like to remember the editors) for a rather overwhelmingly thorough report today on the mess that is the University of South Carolina’s biomass-to-energy project. An excerpt from the lengthy package in The State today:
On June 28, 2009, an explosion rocked the biomass-fueled power plant on the campus of the University of South Carolina.
The force of the blast sent a metal panel some 60 feet toward the control office of the plant at Whaley and Sumter streets, according to documents obtained from USC by The State newspaper through a Freedom of Information Act request.
No one was hurt, but USC officials were concerned enough about the “potentially lethal accident” that they ordered an independent safety review and, in a strongly worded letter to the company that had built the plant, made it clear that university staff would not be allowed back into the building until the review was completed.
The blast underscored what some USC officials privately grumbled about for years: That the plant has been a $20 million disaster, a money pit that was poorly planned and built by a company that had never constructed such a cutting-edge “green energy” power plant before.
Interviews with USC officials and a spokeswoman for the company as well as a review of more than 1,800 pages of documents show that…
Rich material for a discussion. Here’s how it is likely to go, although I look forward to unanticipated variations:
Some of you: Yet another example of USC wasting time and money on unproven, pie-in-the-sky energy alternatives and leaving us in a financial hole with little or nothing to show.
Others of you: What a classic case of the private sector not delivering — a Fortune 500 company that takes millions from a public institution and doesn’t get the job done…
To me, the whole mess is too complex for simple conclusions, but here’s a stab: Some USC officials under the last administration made an unwise, expensive deal, while at the same time trying to insulate us from loss by getting the company to guarantee savings. Then after that, everything went wrong.
But tell me what y’all think.