SELC praises South Carolina solar power bill

  • Friday, April 11, 2014

The Southern Environmental Law Center welcomed the introduction of compromise solar bill in the South Carolina legislature this week. The law would open the way for residential leasing of solar panels, encourage utilities to establish distributed generation programs, and start a process for updating the rates paid to customers for their solar generation.

The solar leasing provision would allow residents to obtain solar panels by renting them instead of having to pay large up-front costs. The bill also includes special programs to bring solar to schools, churches and other non-profits.

“This bill lights the path to South Carolina’s solar power future,” said SELC senior attorney Blan Holman. “Not only would it give residents and businesses the freedom to lower utility bills using solar power, it would spark thousands of new jobs in the solar sector while helping recruit international firms wanting access to clean energy.”

In 2011, Boeing and SCE&G installed what was then the state’s largest solar installation (2.6 megawatts) at Boeing’s manufacturing facility in North Charleston. Earlier this year, Santee Cooper powered up a 3 megawatt facility in Walterboro. The bill introduced Thursday opens the way for more of these large operations, but also sets the stage for thousands of residents to place roof-top solar power on their homes.

“Across the South, states like North Carolina and Georgia have already moved to take advantage of local, affordable solar power, and this compromise legislation is what South Carolinians have been waiting for,” said Katie Ottenweller, leader of SELC’s Solar Initiative. “With smart, forward-looking policies in place, the state’s solar market can and will grow rapidly, bringing enormous benefits to the people of South Carolina.”

Solar power prices have been falling steadily for years. Homeowners that lease solar panels can immediately lower their power bills by selling power back to the grid through what is known as net-metering. The bill establishes a multi-track process for ensuring fair net-metering rates, development of cost effective utility distributed energy programs that include solar, and rules for solar leasing.

A draft of the bill was developed over months through a collaborative process led by the Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina. It was introduced as a substitute to a bill that would have only addressed solar leasing. Hearings on that bill last year showed wide public support for greater access to solar by residents, churches and universities. The new bill addresses solar leasing for individual homeowners and businesses, but also opens the way for larger utility-scale projects that would be integrated directly to the grid.

South Carolina’s neighboring states are already going after solar. Georgia launched an aggressive advanced solar initiative in 2013 that will generate nearly 800 megawatts of power from the sun, and North Carolina already ranks as one of the top solar producing states in the nation.

Blan Holman and Katie Ottenwell, Southern Environmental Law Center

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