There’s a growing demand for solar power in South Carolina, and it appears the industry is beginning to respond.
Santee Cooper and Central Electric Cooperative plan to build a 20-acre solar energy farm near Walterboro — a welcome step toward increasing the state’s renewable energy.
It will be the largest in the state, and as such should raise people’s awareness of, and whet their appetite for, solar energy.
The solar industry, particularly in South Carolina, which has some of the country’s most restrictive laws governing it, is still in its infancy. Only 1 percent of the state’s power is generated from renewables like sun and wind.
Central Electric President and CEO Ron Calcaterra said the Colleton County project should show how to minimize costs to members who use solar power without compromising the cooperatives’ ability to provide reliable electricity via coal and nuclear plants.
A public conversation about solar energy was to take place this month, but the Public Service Commission canceled it under pressure from the state’s electric cooperatives. It is clear now that they wanted plans for the wind farm to be part of the discussion. But it is a pity to have missed the opportunity — any opportunity — for an exchange of ideas on the topic.
The perspective of utilities and cooperatives, after all, is likely to be very different from the perspective of homeowners and small businesses. For example, the industry points out that solar power is more expensive than traditionally generated power. Maybe that’s so for a utility or its stockholders. But a church that installs a solar energy panel to reduce its electricity bills would see things differently.
It is a complicated conversation taking place all across the nation as demand for solar energy increases.
Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina President and CEO Michael Couick, on today’s Commentary page, gives South Carolina reason to be encouraged. He predicts that the cost of solar power will eventually be comparable to conventional resources.
Further, he says, “We agree renewables such as solar can work.”
And the Colleton County solar farm is no small or simple undertaking. Anything but.
It suggests that electric cooperatives are willing to do some tough work to give solar a try.
But to make real headway into the issue and come up with sound recommendations, it will be necessary to broaden the array of people at the table beyond industry representatives.
Both the S.C. Legislature and the PSC will have to make sure that the inevitable differences of opinion regarding solar energy and its value are given due consideration — that questions will be approached with input from all interests.
Solar energy is sustainable, non-polluting and doable. The goal of this plant and the conversation on solar power that ensues is not to decide whether to use it but to figure out the best way to broaden its application as widely as possible.