Robert Long must be a very brave individual.

The general manager of resource planning at SCANA, the parent company of SCE&G, has agreed to be on a panel next week to talk about solar and wind energy, even though the utility's stance on solar power is less than consumer-friendly.

Also on the panel are Nikolaos Rigas, senior scientist and director of Clemson's Wind Turbine Testing Facility; Hamilton Davis, the energy and climate director for the Coastal Conservation League; and Thomas French, the executive director of the SC Clean Energy Business Alliance.

The discussion, sponsored by the Charleston Area League of Women Voters, at 6 p.m. April 10 in North Charleston City Hall will focus on four key questions about wind and solar power.

Christe McCoy-Lawrence, the league's director of natural resources, emphasized that this won't be a debate. Each panelist will have 10-12 minutes to speak, and then the audience will be able to ask questions.

If the overflow crowds from last fall's SCE&G rate increase hearings show up, it could be a very lively question-and-answer session. Here's one question not on the agenda: Why is SCE&G so against its customers being able to save money?

Expensive sunshine

The economic barriers to solar power are such that it's mostly companies like Boeing, or smaller environmentally minded ones like Half Moon Outfitters, that can afford the upfront installation costs, or are willing to absorb them.

“Every state develops its own system, and we have developed a very centralized utility-centered system — it's a matter of trying to make the transition,” said McCoy-Lawrence.

That's a very polite way of saying that the utilities generally call the shots. After all, when was the last time your electric rates went down?

Heck, try to take steps to reduce your energy use, and SCE&G's weather normalization adjustment might make that backfire on you. So don't expect them to be thrilled about customers wanting to cut back on energy consumption.

People power

Under current regulations, only the most dedicated customers with the financial means will be able to install solar panels at home. A bill in the Legislature would change that, allowing customers to lease panels instead of buying them. As McCoy-Lawrence points out, nonprofits, hospitals and schools could all benefit from that change.

There's really no reason for SCE&G to have such unfriendly terms for consumers interested in doing the right thing by using a renewable resource. After all, whatever small profit they might lose, they can make it up with their next rate increase.

One thing won't change: people want reliable, on-demand access to power, so it's unlikely any utility would shed large numbers of customers if the leasing option becomes available.

But right now, the perception is that SCE&G puts profits ahead of renewable resources, with the state's blessing.

If that changes as a result of this panel discussion or the law being passed, it could be good news for both SCE&G and its customers.

Reach Melanie Balog at 937-5565 or