The great state of South Carolina was very much in the national news last week because some members of the state legislature did some crazy, headline-grabbing stuff. That pretty much buried last week’s other big news out of South Carolina, which involved a major legislative victory for rooftop solar fans. That’s too bad, because the renewable energy action in a conservative-leaning state legislature could serve as an inspiration to other states that have hesitated over clean power. So, in the interest of spreading the good news, here goes.
How’s Your Media Plan These Days?
Before we get into the rooftop solar victory, let’s pause to note that renewable energy is becoming a major, as in very strongly major, way for states to attract new investment. That goes for small business as well as the big guns like IBM, Apple, Facebook, and Google, along with plenty of non-tech companies like IKEA, Walmart, and L’Oreal.
Aside from the prospect of lower utility bills and a chance for businesses to toot their climate hawk horn, the guarantee of long-term rate stability is a significant advantage for renewables.
The rooftop solar angle comes in when you consider reliability as another important element. Rooftop solar is an important driver of the distributed energy trend. The consensus among grid planners, government agencies and other energy stakeholders is that small scale, decentralized generation and local generation are the keys to the resilient, reliable power supply of the future.
The business community is paying attention to all this — and they’re taking names, too.
Last year, for example, the Retail Industry Leaders Association ranked all 50 states in terms of access to solar and wind energy. South Carolina clocked in at number 36. That’s not rock bottom but it certainly doesn’t help the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce take its case to investors.
In other words, last week’s rooftop solar victory opened up an enormous free public relations opportunity for South Carolina, but unfortunately, crazy is like honey to ants when it comes to attracting national and global media attention.
After all, pulling out a gun at a constituent meeting or entertaining the idea of sparking a second Civil War over gun control issues probably isn’t the most effective way to attract new investment to the state you were elected to represent, but it sure attracts a lot of attention to yourself.
Great Victory For Rooftop Solar In South Carolina
Where were we? Oh right, the big rooftop solar victory.
The Pulitzer Prize winning Post and Courier has the scoop. Do follow the link and support local journalism, but for those of you on the go, here’s the rundown:
South Carolina’s growing rooftop solar industry scored a major victory Thursday, winning key approval for a bill they say will increase the emphasis on renewable energy and save thousands of jobs.
There’s still a lot of sausage-making left to do, but the milestone was a big one:
Lawmakers in the House of Representatives passed legislation eliminating caps on residential solar power in the state. The measure extends incentives that advocates say make rooftop panels an affordable prospect for homeowners in a state that’s faced soaring electricity rates.
If that’s beginning to sound like net metering, that’s what it is. For those of you new to the topic, net metering means your rooftop solar panels can make you some money. In states that allow net metering, property owners with solar panels can sell their excess energy back to the local utility, at the same rate they pay for electricity.
The issue for South Carolina is that a 2014 law allowed net metering, but the law limited solar expansion to 2%. Beyond that, utilities can institute extra charges or other limitations.
Solar fans have already pushed the 2% cap to the limit. It’s going to have to go if South Carolina’s rooftop solar industry is going to keep growing.
To ice the cake of this legislative victory, the vote wasn’t even close. It came in at 64-33, demonstrating bipartisan support for solar. The Post and Courier attributes the lopsided vote to anger over the $9 billion Vogtle nuclear power plant debacle. South Carolina rate payers already pay among the nation’s highest prices for electricity bills, and Vogtle was the last straw.
Tempering the enthusiasm somewhat is language in the bill that enables power companies to pay net metering customers as little as 5 cents per kilowatt hour, rather than paying the full rate, which is currently an average of 13 cents. However, the bill’s sponsors won a clause that protects solar customers from having to pay utilities for producing their own electricity.
Another South Carolina news organization, TheState.com, also noted that the Vogtle plant and high electricity rates factored into legislative support from both sides of the aisle (follow the link for a good boots-on-the-ground read):
State Reps. Peter McCoy, R-Charleston, and Leon Stavrinakis, D-Charleston, said the House’s vote is a resounding message to state power companies that people need choices, such as solar, that can lower their electricity bills.
TheState.com also notes that in the same session, the House beat down another bill that would have allowed utilities to pay solar customers less.
That’s actually where the meat of the news is. According to TheState.com, “many” members of the House were inclined to vote for that bill, but came over to the rooftop solar side after hearing from other members (really, follow that link — here it is again).
So, onwards and upwards. The bill now heads to the Senate, so stay tuned for more fireworks.
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Image (screenshot): Google Maps via SC Energy Office.