The Daily Gamecock

SC must put citizens, future of state over interests of corporations

Solar energy bill good for state’s future, economy

South Carolina’s Congress is not exactly known for being progressive, so it was not entirely unexpected when a bill was shot down in February which would have allowed non-utility parties (that is, anyone other than SCE&G or Duke Energy) to install solar panels. It was a minor setback for renewable energy industries in South Carolina as the new competitors would have driven down the large costs of installation, thereby helping South Carolina catch up with its neighbors, North Carolina, Georgia and Florida, all of which rank above the Palmetto State in this billion-dollar industry. Another solar energy bill has just been introduced in the Senate, and if this one doesn’t pass, voters will know exactly who to point their fingers at.

The bill is called The Energy System Freedom of Ownership Act. Introduced with bipartisan support, it allows third-party financiers to pay for the initial installation costs in exchange for either a small leasing fee or a portion of the credits and profits solar panel owners receive from excess power sent back to the larger power companies. Large up-front costs are one of the biggest reasons many consumers do not invest in the energy source, and the model of financing in this bill could increase personal solar investments. It’s a win-win situation: Customers pay less for energy, South Carolina attracts more investment, the growth in the industry creates more jobs for the state and carbon emissions decrease significantly.

The only ones who don’t win are the energy companies, and they are putting up a fight. According to a SCE&G spokesman, South Carolina’s State Regulation of Public Utilities Review Committee recently approved a Council to “study” the solar panel leasing issue, and he says lawmakers should either hold the vote or oppose it until the study finds conclusive evidence in favor of the program.

Supporters of the bill claim the evidence is in Florida, Georgia and North Carolina, which are among 28 states implementing this system. Even the small state of New Jersey currently has a solar capacity of more than 500 megawatts as opposed to South Carolina’s four. What’s more, South Carolina currently receives one to two hundred kilowatts of solar radiation more than New Jersey.
For another comparison, Germany, which receives roughly 20 percent of its national energy from solar, averages roughly 400 kilowatts of energy less than the Palmetto State. With those kinds of numbers and the huge advantages it could give to consumers and producers in the state, it is a wonder any steps to improve solar power creation in South Carolina are being blocked.

It’s unsurprising when you look at who is opposing it: large, monopolistic, utility companies with heavy lobbying power. It doesn’t take a genius to recognize the “study” as a ploy to delay the inevitable. South Carolina stands to make astounding gains for thousands of citizens if it learns to put their interest above the interest of a few lobbyists with deep pockets.