Nobody is saying that solar power is the answer to all the state’s power needs — only that it’s promising as a part of the equation.
Unfortunately, too many of South Carolina’s lawmakers seem to be looking for reasons that solar power can’t work instead of searching for ways that it can.
They’re turning a deaf ear to a growing number of people who like the idea of reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, being kind to the environment, saving some money — and not trailing the rest of the country in yet another area.
As Tony Bartelme and Doug Pardue report in today’s paper, the issue isn’t simple. Increasing the use of solar power would have an impact — albeit slight — on the sale of traditional power. The state’s laws would have to be changed if homeowners, businesses and organizations are going to be able to afford to install solar panels.
And the long-term success of solar power, even in sunny South Carolina, is unclear.
Importantly, the Public Service Commission will have to stand up for South Carolinians who want policies friendlier to solar energy.
Similarly, scientists predict a great future for wind power in this region, but state regulations discourage its use (see Perrin Dargan’s column on today’s Commentary page).
The fact is, people in South Carolina are ready for alternative energy sources. Hundreds of businesses and individuals have written to the PSC to complain that the current net metering laws for solar power systems are too restrictive and not uniform. Statewide, the cap for solar energy is 0.2 percent of peak demand. Advocates would like to see that increased to 2 percent — a major increase, but still substantially less than in many states.
They’d like to see the cap on net metering for commercial systems raised, also. One of those petitioning for that increase is Walmart, which aspires to be supplied by 100 percent renewable energy.
Solar advocates want the state to allow individuals and organizations like churches to lease solar panels. Doing so makes solar power financially feasible, but leasing is currently prohibited by state regulation.
And they’d like communities to be allowed to install their own solar power systems.
Earlier this year, the PSC promised people a fall forum to discuss their ideas publicly, but canceled when asked to by utilities. That was a disappointing decision and one that raises questions about the extent to which the PSC dances to the utilities’ tune. There is no rule that the PSC may have only one forum. As long as people — and utilities — have information to share, the PSC should be making efforts to listen.
Popular support for solar energy in South Carolina is higher than ever, in part because people see neighboring states making strides. They recognize that solar power should no longer be restricted to those who can afford the substantial up-front installation costs. And they fear businesses and industry will think twice about establishing a presence in a state lagging far behind with restrictive, outdated laws regulating solar energy.
It’s time the PSC and the state Legislature see the light and work to make South Carolina more solar-power friendly.