Strong solar deal sealed in South Carolina

Installers put in a rooftop solar array. (© Jackson Smith)

This morning the South Carolina Public Service Commission approved a settlement between clean energy advocates and Duke Energy that will benefit rooftop solar customers, solar companies, the utility, and all utility customers. The new Solar Choice tariff aligns interests to provide savings to future rooftop solar customers who agree to help Duke Energy more easily meet energy demands during the times when energy use is highest.

Kate Mixson, SELC’s lead energy attorney in South Carolina, said the new solar rates represent a good compromise among the stakeholders under a deadline imposed by South Carolina’s landmark Energy Freedom Act, passed with SELC’s support last year.

The act ordered utilities to lift the cap on net metering for rooftop installations and to revise its net metering policies. Net metering allows solar customers to get bill credits for excess energy that is put back onto the grid for others to use.

“This ruling is an important step into the future of clean energy for South Carolina,” Mixson said. “The commission recognized the value of the agreement reached between utilities, solar advocates, and conservation groups to expand the solar economy while keeping the grid strong, resilient, and affordable.”

Historically, net metering policies across the South have varied widely. Some utilities have offered full credit, meaning they credit a customer the same dollar amount for excess energy as they charge the customer for energy used. Other utilities have offered low credits or charged rooftop solar customers oppressive additional fixed fees. Many utilities have sought to lower net metering credits as more homeowners install rooftop panels while solar advocates and solar companies have pushed for higher amounts to fairly compensate solar customers that are providing valuable electricity to the grid.

The commission approval of Duke’s “Solar Choice Net Metering” agreement with clients of SELC and other clean energy advocates evolves net metering in South Carolina and avoids many of the conflicts over net metering experienced in other states. Future rooftop solar owners under Solar Choice Net Metering would also have the opportunity to get financial savings up front if they participate in a solar plus smart thermostat program that is also awaiting commission approval. This program should eventually expand to include other technologies like battery storage.

Under the commission approved Solar Choice agreement, Duke Energy will be able to charge solar customers more during peak demand times when most customers are drawing a lot of power from the grid, similar to surge pricing employed by some toll roads and rideshare companies. By the same token, solar customers will be charged less during off-peak times.

Solar customers whose panels are able to send energy to the grid during peak demand can receive additional credit. Solar customers will also be able to save money during peak times by installing a smart thermostat which Duke Energy could adjust during high demand.

SELC represented the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, and Upstate Forever in the negotiations. They were joined by other clean-energy organizations and solar companies including North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association, Solar Energy Industries Alliance, and Vote Solar.

The groups and Duke Energy expect to later use this agreement as a blueprint for solar agreements in North Carolina.

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