Sun block: Utilities use punitive fees to discourage residential solar

Fees imposed by some utilities in the Southeast are stunting the growth of solar as an economic engine and independent energy source. (© iStock)

A state-owned utility in South Carolina is penalizing solar customers with standby charges and unfair rate structures that make it harder for customers to justify switching to the sun to gain more energy independence.

The regressive solar policies at Santee Cooper are unique compared to other utilities in South Carolina, where in recent years top lawmakers have embraced solar energy. In fact, the Solar Foundation’s just-released solar job census shows that, because of this leadership, “the Palmetto State has the highest projected solar growth in the South Atlantic division.” But it’s unlikely Santee Cooper customers will feel as positive about switching to solar. The state-owned utility’s anti-solar fees that cost a typical solar customer hundreds of dollars a year have been the focus of scrutiny from SELC and other organizations in the state. SELC has recently released several whitepapers detailing how poor rate designs can stymie solar customers, and what rights utility customers have when turning to the sun.

Sadly, Santee Cooper’s regressive policies are not unique in the South. As solar use has exploded nationally, utilities in Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama are making it difficult, or impractical, for customers to tap into the sun. The Solar Foundation gave solar fairness policies in those three states a grade of “F.”

Solar customers, potential solar customers, clean-energy advocates, and environmental groups will continue to fight anti-solar fees and practices. SELC is helping to lead this charge, providing guidance on rate design and solar access to governments, utilities, and customers interested in harnessing the power of the sun.

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