Dominion Energy unveils steep solar fees threatening solar jobs, access to rooftop solar

Utility’s proposal designed to cut off avenue for customers seeking relief from high bills

A new Dominion proposal would add roughly $650 in new mandatory annual fees to the bill of a typical solar customer in South Carolina. (© Jackson Smith)

Just days before Christmas, Dominion Energy South Carolina has unveiled a slate of newly proposed fees and rate changes that will cause solar-industry workers to lose their jobs, force solar customers to pay considerably more, and all but eliminate one of the simplest options for homeowners to reduce power bills in a region where they already pay among the highest electricity costs in the country.

The Dominion proposal would add roughly $650 in new mandatory annual fees to the bill of a typical solar customer. The newly proposed “subscription fee” is effectively a new solar tax that is on top of Dominion’s move to more than double the existing customer charge for solar-panel owners.

Its effect will be to keep customers tethered to Dominion’s rising rates and to take away an affordable option for customers to better control their power bills and their family budgets.”

—Attorney Kate Lee Mixson

In addition, Dominion is proposing a drastic cut to the bill credits offered to solar owners for the excess electricity they put back on the grid, which Dominion then sells to others for a profit. Under current rates, rooftop solar customers receive a dollar-for-dollar credit, but Dominion’s new proposal would slash that.

Conservation groups and customer advocates who examined Dominion’s plan -- released late yesterday afternoon -- say that these inflated fixed fees, new solar tax and changes to bill credits will discourage customers from installing rooftop solar and could eliminate the solar industry in Dominion’s territory. Statewide, the residential solar industry supported more than 4,000 jobs in 2019.

“We expected Dominion to release a terrible plan, but this is so much worse than we imagined,” says Attorney Kate Lee Mixson. “Its effect will be to keep customers tethered to Dominion’s rising rates and to take away an affordable option for customers to better control their power bills and their family budgets.”

Dominion is also appearing to thumb its nose at the Energy Freedom Act, a landmark piece of legislation crafted by South Carolina lawmakers to provide beleaguered customers with cost-saving options.

The Energy Freedom Act largely was borne from the multi-billion-dollar failure of the VC Summer power station, a nuclear-power project that soaked customers with higher power bills to pay for a facility that was poorly conceived and managed, went way over budget and fell hopelessly behind schedule, and was ultimately abandoned. Several key leaders of that project are being prosecuted for fraud.

Dominion arrived in South Carolina to take advantage of the tumult. It purchased the South Carolina Energy & Gas (a subsidiary of the SCANA corporation), which was financially hobbled by the nuclear-station failure. Dominion is now trying to raise rates on the former SCE&G customers who already pay inflated bills to cover the cost of the fraud.

“South Carolina is becoming a leader in clean energy, but the solar proposal from Dominion would move us backward,” says Laura Cantral, executive director of the Coastal Conservation League, represented by SELC. “Affordable rooftop solar can provide relief to customers facing high power bills, while laying the groundwork for a system in which customers do more to help meet system-wide energy needs. South Carolina deserves a more forward-looking proposal from Dominion Energy.”

Here is how Dominion’s proposed fees affect a typical solar customer:

  • Dominion’s basic service charge for all customers – that is, the amount a customer pays before flipping a single light switch -- is $9 a month. But solar customers would pay $19.50 a month.
  • Plus, Dominion’s new “solar subscription fee” of $5.40 per kilowatt of solar installed would mean a typical customer with an 8kW system would pay $43.20 per month.
  • Taken together, the new Dominion charges would mean a typical solar customer would pay $752 yearly just in unavoidable fees, or seven times what that customer pays now.

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