Duke Energy has donated more than $1 million to protecting the Upstate’s wildlife and natural resources.
The Charlotte-based energy company recently donated $618,000 to the Oconee County Conservation Bank and $762,000 to the Foothills Conservancy Program for the Keowee-Toxaway Habitat Enhancement Program. The donations were part of a 30-year relicensing agreement that Duke Energy recently signed for the Keowee-Toxaway Hydroelectric Project, which creates nearly 868 megawatts of energy for South Carolina residents every year.
“Receiving the license allows us to implement operational, environmental and recreational resource enhancements that will result in many benefits to the community and the environment for decades to come,” said Steve Jester, vice president of water strategy, hydro licensing and lake services for Duke Energy.
In 2009, about 16 stakeholders, including Greenville-based conservation group Upstate Forever, started to discuss the relicensing of the project. In 2013, the stakeholders and Duke Energy agreed to specific conservation actions related to water resource protection, public recreational enhancements, land conservation and shoreline management in the Keowee-Toxaway Relicensing Agreement.
The agreement took effect on Sept. 1, 2016.
“Our board is proud to accept this gift from Duke Energy to help further the worthwhile purposes of the Oconee County Conservation Bank, including the conservation of natural resources, wildlife habitat, clean air and clean water,” said Shea Airey, Oconee County Conservation Bank board member, in a news release.
The Oconee County Conservation Bank was founded in 2011 to provide grants to landowners whose properties are ideal for conservation. That includes historic farms, properties with wildlife habitats or land that has excellent natural resources.
The donation from Duke Energy will be used to assist those landowners, Airey said.
The Foothills Community Foundation will start a Habitat Enhancement Program that protects nearly 2,900 acres adjoining Lakes Keowee and Jocasssee by allowing qualified government agencies and nonprofits to start projects that “ensure habitat creation, enhancement and protection activities for fish and wildlife,” according to a news release.
The program will be funded from a fee charged to developers for lake-use permits for projects on lakes Keowee and Jocasssee.
Duke Energy will also make improvements to that area. The company is adding diver access, a new dock, a new boat, trailer parking area, access for non-motorized boating as well as bank fishing signs at Devils Fork State Park. The company is also adding nearly 25 acres, new restrooms and 12 campsites at the Double Springs Campground.
In addition, Duke Energy plans to add new parking areas at three recreation sites, new trails, bank fishing signs, new campsites, fishing stations and 10 cabins at Mile Creek County Park, which is located on Lake Keowee. It will also add a kayak launch, fishing pier and portage at 15-Acre Lake, a project recreation site at Keowee-Toxaway State Park.
The Keowee-Toxaway Relicensing Agreement also provides nearly $1 million to protect the 1,648-acre Nine Times Preserve in Pickens County. The area is one of the largest intact unprotected forests left in the Upstate and provides several public recreational activities, according to the Natureland Trust.
“We’re thrilled to support the preservation of this spectacular land,” Jester said. “Our objective throughout the relicensing process was to understand the community’s priorities and find ways to support them. This is a fine example of how stakeholder partnerships can result in benefits that will be enjoyed for generations.”
The agreement also provides $350,000 for the S.C. Department of Natural Resources to build an observation tower at Sassafras Mountain.
Protecting wildlife and wild places
The Duke Energy Foundation is awarding more than $350,000 in grants to 13 environmental nonprofits in South Carolina.
“We are dedicated to protecting the natural beauty of South Carolina and being good stewards of the environment,” said Clark Gillespy, Duke Energy’s South Carolina president, in the release. “By supporting the organizations that do this hard work each and every day, we can help protect and restore wildlife and natural resources, and support quality environmental education programs in our state.”
The grants will fund various environmental projects, wildlife conservation efforts and environmental educational programs within Duke Energy’s service territory in the state, according to a news release.
Some of the grants are going to Upstate conservation efforts.
Greenville County’s Soil and Water Conservation District will receive $14,000 for Project WET, which is an educator training program that promotes awareness of water and empowers community action to solve complex water issues.
TreesGreenville, a nonprofit that works to plant, promote and protect trees in Greenville, has been awarded $36,144 to provide 750 free trees to Greenville neighborhoods. The grant was awarded the through the Energy Saving Tree program, which helps residents reduce their energy bills through strategic tree planting.
“Trees are a last-minute thought for a lot of people. But this new program is going to help us educate residents about strategic tree planting,” said Joelle Teachey, executive director of TreesGreenville. “Strategically planting trees to create shade improves air quality, energy conservation and quality of life.”
The program is only available to Greenville County Duke Energy customers. Customers must pre-register and reserve their free trees at treesgreenville.org/giveaway.
These organizations will also receive a grant from the Duke Energy Foundation:
Our Upstate SC will receive $10,000 to help create the Upstate Outdoor Activity & Recreation Inventory & Interactive map, a first-of-its-kind resource for Upstate residents and visitors who wish to visit the region’s parks, recreation areas and natural resources.
Clemson University will receive $26,400 to continue support of programs that provide an environmental education program on interrelationships of energy production and environmental stewardship for K-12 teachers at the Duke Energy Bad Creek Hydroelectric Station in Salem, S.C.
South Carolina Aquarium will receive $25,000 to support the traveling environmental education outreach program, Rovers, specifically underwriting service to seventh graders in Lee and Marion counties.
Pee Dee Land Trust will receive $45,000 for the Landowner Education Program, which educates private landowners about options for protecting their land and family legacy.
South Carolina Waterfowl Association will receive $27,000 to support Camp Leopold, a school year natural resource conservation and environmental education camp in Pinewood, S.C., that reconnects students to the land community through the use of hands-on environmental education programs.
Beautiful Places Alliance will receive $35,000 to help South Carolina State Parks and partner agencies implement a controlled-burn program in several Upstate state parks, including Oconee, Devils Fork, Table Rock and Paris Mountain.
Palmetto Conservation Foundation will receive $15,000 for a public education campaign to inform communities along the Palmetto Trail about the new Palmetto Conservation Corps, a program that emphasizes environmental stewardship and community service.
Newberry Soil and Water Conservation District will receive $20,000 to help complete the task of establishing native species for all wildlife – including pollinators – on 240 acres of abandoned pasturelands.
Anne Springs Close Greenway will receive $46,300 to bring hands-on environmental outreach education to all second grade students in Fort Mill, Rock Hill and Lancaster School Districts.
York Soil and Water Conservation District will receive $20,145 to expand the school garden lesson series to an additional 10 elementary schools in York County, and establish and maintain garden programs at the schools.
Francis Marion University will receive $34,800 to expand restoration of the native longleaf pine forest of the Windham Environmental Center, develop educational materials related to the center and provide research and educational equipment for students and faculty.