South Carolina solar customers get a boost

Regulatory board rulings will ensure energy choice, encourage jobs

Workers install rooftop solar panels on a home outside of Columbia, S.C. (© Emily Richardson-Lorrente)

In a notable move, South Carolina utility regulators soundly rejected a proposal from Dominion Energy to impose punitive new fees on customers who install rooftop solar. Instead, the state adopted a forward-looking new solar policy recommended by SELC and our partners in a series of filings before the commission.

“This ruling recognizes rooftop solar energy has real value to customers,” said Senior Attorney David Neal, who led SELC’s work on the issue.

A pair of decisions Wednesday from the state’s Public Service Commission covered two different issues:

  • Dominion Energy’s request to charge its solar customers a suite of new exorbitant fees and charges while reducing the compensation customers receive for supplying clean power to the grid
  • The “generic docket,” which determines, among other things, how the value of rooftop solar power is calculated, and how utility requests align with the South Carolina Energy Freedom Act

The Public Service Commission rejected requests from Dominion Energy and the state Office of Regulatory Staff to hike solar fees and impose new charges on customers to a level that would put rooftop solar out of reach for most households. The commission instead adopted the joint proposal put forward by SELC on behalf of its clients Coastal Conservation League, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, and Upstate Forever and in cooperation with Vote Solar, the N.C. Sustainable Energy Association, and the Solar Energy Industries Association.

The new Solar Choice tariff will be based on Dominion’s existing residential Time of Use rate and will not impose steep new fees or charges on customers who choose to invest in rooftop solar after May 31. The ruling means that solar power will remain a viable option in Dominion’s territory, and will allow the state’s robust solar industry to continue growing.

“It's very clear that we are at an inflection point,” said Shelley Robbins with Upstate Forever. “We can move forward and embrace clean energy growth with steady or falling prices, job creation, and a cleaner environment, or we can fall behind by continuing our twisted love affair with fossil fuels, unstable prices, and the specter of stranded assets. By embracing the former, the PSC has certified South Carolina as a leader on these issues.”

In the “generic docket” decision, commissioners rejected the general notion presented by utilities like Dominion Energy that solar power is not a valuable commodity when compared to electricity from fossil-fuel plants. The ruling essentially requires utilities to “do their homework” when determining how to value the growing amount of solar energy in the state, said Senior Attorney David Neal.

“We know solar energy is valuable not just to customers who use it to save money on their monthly bills, but to the thousands of workers who provide solar energy and to all customers who benefit from rooftop solar’s output on the grid,” said Neal. “This is particularly true during summer peak times when it costs the utility the most to generate and transmit electricity. Bottom line is, private investment in solar helps cut the utility’s costs to serve customers.”

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