South Carolina solar is on the rise. This week, the South Carolina Public Service Commission approved the Southeast’s first shared solar programs specifically aimed at low-income customers. Settlement agreements reached by stakeholders and utilities in 2015 required, among other commitments, that the states’ investor-owned utilities to develop solar programs that benefit economically underserved customers and communities. Beginning in 2017, Duke Energy Progress and Duke Energy Carolinas will make available 400 kilowatts in each of their shared solar programs, allowing the first 200 customers that sign up and qualify at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty line to waive application and initial subscription costs. This new program is a step in the right direction as we work to make the promise of affordable solar power a reality for all who call the Palmetto State home.
The shared solar approval comes on the heels of other exciting news about rooftop solar in South Carolina. Duke Energy recently announced that over 750 residential customers and 35 businesses have applied for its rooftop solar rebates. These solar customers will collectively install 30 megawatts of solar power, meeting over half of the utilities’ rooftop program goal of 53 MW. South Carolina Electric and Gas Company has had similar success with its rooftop program, already selling out of its highest performance-based incentive offerings.
Solar leasing has also opened the door for the states’ growing rooftop solar industry, with companies like SunRun already providing rooftop solar and jobs across the state and SolarCity announcing last week that it is now hiring in preparation to open a South Carolina office.
And it’s not just rooftop solar on the rise. Greentech Media and the Solar Energy Industries Association recently announced that South Carolina jumped to 9th in the nation for 2016 third quarter installations of new solar (38 MW), up from 24th in the first quarter of the year. South Carolina still has room to grow, as it currently ranks 33rd in the nation for overall solar installed, compared to neighboring North Carolina, which now ranks 2nd. Greentech Media further estimates that there are approximately 891 MW of new solar projects under development in the state. These advances in Palmetto State solar are due in part to the sustained advocacy by SELC and partners in the wake of landmark solar legislation we helped pass in 2014.
What’s next for South Carolina? Over the coming year, the utilities, solar project developers, and advocates will continue to implement the provisions of South Carolina’s landmark renewables bill, Act 236, through rooftop solar, solar farms, and new programs to make sure solar is accessible to all South Carolinians. The state is also developing a comprehensive State Energy Plan. While the plan will not be limited to solar energy, it should emphasize putting the sun to work for South Carolina for years to come.