Public Hearing Highlights Solar Energy Opportunities for South Carolina
While South Carolina has lagged behind most states in utilizing solar energy, in recent months state policymakers have begun to investigate ways to close the gap. To that end, the State Regulation of Public Utilities Review Committee Energy Advisory Council will meet on Wednesday to discuss a new draft report on distributed solar energy and has asked the public to submit comments on new policies that would increase solar use.
While solar use has exploded around the US – the solar market grew by 76% in 2012 – Southeast states trail far behind the nation’s solar leaders and South Carolina is the second lowest performing state in the region. Yet key policy decisions on the horizon offer the opportunity for the state to catch up on the solar playing field, as the Public Service Commission will weigh changes to net metering and the legislature is expected to address third party solar financing and installation agreements in its next session.
“Solar energy presents an unparalleled opportunity for our state to create new jobs, generate homegrown energy, save ratepayers money, and reduce impacts on human health and the environment,” said Blan Holman, managing attorney for SELC’s Charleston office. “We all know South Carolina gets its share of sun, and upcoming decisions offer the chance to finally unlock solar power here and allow us to start catching up with the rest of the country.”
The focus of Wednesday’s hearing will be a recent draft report completed by the South Carolina Energy Advisory Council, a panel whose members include representatives from utilities, cities, conservation groups and consumer organizations. The draft report recognizes the potential for large levels of solar power in South Carolina and points to the need for a more detailed analysis of the benefits and costs posed by very deep penetration levels here.
At the same time, the S.C. Public Service Commission is reviewing rules for “net metering” in South Carolina. Net metering allows consumers who in solar panels to provide excess energy back to the grid in exchange for credit on their monthly bill. These locally generated clean energy investments provide valuable power during peak times to the utility, and can save all ratepayers money by allowing the utility to avoid expensive transmission system upgrades and new power plants that would otherwise be needed.
The scale of net metering in South Carolina remains miniscule compared to other states due to restrictions on individual system sizes, a program-wide cap, and other restrictions that limit solar investments, create market uncertainty, and have dragged South Carolina behind its competitors.
In September, the Southern Environmental Law Center submitted comments on behalf of the Coastal Conservation League to the Public Service Commission with recommendations for the state’s net metering standards. The recommendations include raising the cap limits on non-residential systems to encourage greater participation by commercial and industrial customers, allowing solar customers to retain ownership of their renewable energy credits, and eliminating the annual resetting of customer credits. The recommendations also call for raising individual and program-wide caps. Read the comments: https://www.southernenvironment.org/uploads/legal_documents/9-30-13_-2005-385-E_CCL_Comments.pdf
“Even these modest changes to our net metering program would ease the way for homeowners, schools, and businesses to obtain affordable solar power,” said Holman. “Sun power can be an economic engine for South Carolina if we remove the roadblocks that have kept us behind.”
Members of the public interested in reviewing the draft report and submitting testimony, which is due December 10 at 4:00 pm, can access instructions via the Energy Advisory Council: