Defending the right to go solar
The growth of solar power in the South over the past five years has been remarkable, and SELC has been at the center of many of the biggest success stories. At the beginning of 2015, with barely one gigawatt of solar capacity in our region, our energy team set an ambitious goal of expanding that number to seven gigawatts by 2018. As it turned out, the South was so ripe for a solar revolution that we surpassed that goal more than a year ahead of schedule and, by 2018, had secured 11 gigawatts of solar installed or committed to in our six states.
Continued expansion of solar power is essential to realizing a clean energy transformation and weaning the Southeast from fossil fuels. Our solar advocacy going forward will focus on continued growth of renewable resources and securing the rights for everyone in our region to go solar.
Today, SELC is targeting barriers to solar access across the South. The solution starts with better information—many utilities have policies that make adding solar difficult or even impossible for customers, but those policies are often hidden or extremely complex. Last year, SELC launched a website, RatesOfSolar.com, that provides clear, powerful information about solar policies for more than 400 southern utilities, comparing how each company’s solar programs stack up when compared to its peers.
In Georgia, we used the website to identify a municipal utility in the town of Oxford that was charging customers an exorbitant fee to go solar. We coordinated with local partners in an outreach campaign to drive local customers to our website, where they could learn about the punitive policies and take action to demand change. The utility recently relented and rolled back its solar fee.
In neighboring Alabama, the state’s largest utility charges one of the highest fees in the nation to its customers who want to add rooftop solar. This solar tax is a major reason why solar power still provides only .27 percent of Alabama’s energy. Last year, SELC challenged this fee in the state Public Service Commission, where we informed commissioners that this tax eats away an average of $9,000 in clean energy savings from solar customers. We are currently waiting for their decision.
The solar transformation in South Carolina began with 2014 legislation that SELC helped craft and pass, and over the past five years we have worked hard to implement this law. South Carolina hit its program targets for solar installations two years ahead of schedule, and there are now more than 10,000 rooftop solar customers and 3,000 solar jobs across the state.
This spring, South Carolina passed one of the most forward-looking solar bills in the country. The 2019 Energy Freedom Act renews and expands on many of the successful 2014 programs, including a popular rooftop solar net metering program and increased access to solar for low-income residents. SELC worked closely with more than 20 conservation and solar partners to get this new law across the finish line, and we will stay engaged at the Public Service Commission to make sure these programs succeed in broadening access to solar power, especially for those who need it most.