The public will get a chance Wednesday to weigh in on possible changes in electric utility regulations that could turn South Carolina from a cellar-dweller to a leader in production of solar power.
If you go
What: State Regulation of Public Utilities Review Committee Energy Advisory Council
Where: Room 110, Blatt Building on the Statehouse grounds.
When: 9:30 a.m. Wednesday
To see the draft report go to: The statehouse website
The state's Energy Advisory Council wants public input on a draft report that says the state is "poised on the edge of a sea change" to allow individuals and businesses to generate their own electricity and sell what they don't use back to the power companies."
Solar energy is expected to be the biggest source of this so-called "distributed generation" of energy. The state, however, currently has among the most restrictive laws in the nation on its use.
The state also restricts what's called "third party leasing." That would allow a company to lease solar panels and generation equipment to a homeowner or business. The company would be paid through sale of the of the excess solar electricity to the electric utility company. Leasing is seen as one way to make installation of currently expensive solar equipment affordable for far more people. Such systems can cost upwards of $20,000.
The draft report notes that solar energy panels rapidly are getting more affordable. As a result, the report says,the state should prepare for a future electricity grid that won't rely solely on single producers but will be "a different system that will be significantly more dynamic and versatile than today's system."
The report points out that state policy makers and electric utilities have little choice but to recognize that this shift is occurring. They "must likewise evolve to reflect a more technologically advanced and flexible environment," the report says. "It will be best to ride the crest of the distributed generation wave in a proactive rather than reactive way."
Blan Holman, managing attorney for the Charleston office of the Southern Environmental Law Center, said "solar power is generating huge interest in South Carolina and the Energy Advisory Council's final report will shed important light on this very hot topic.
The environmental law center is working with the Coastal Conservation League to push the state to enact friendlier solar laws,
Many state legislators have said they are waiting to see the final report before making up their minds about changing laws to make it easier for solar power in the state.
The Environmental Law Center Holman said in a press release that solar use has exploded around the US, with a 76 percent market jump last year. Southeast states trail far behind the nation's solar leaders and South Carolina is the second lowest performing state in the region," the Center says.
North Carolina is an exception; it has relaxed laws to allow more solar power production and now is a national leader in solar electricity production.
Two of the state's utilities, Santee Cooper and South Carolina Electricity and Gas, have taken tentative steps into the solar energy production arena. But major expansion of solar likely won't be in the cards unless the state permits some form of solar leasing.
The final report is intended to provide regulators and legislators with the information they need to understand the issues and know what's at stake.
The Legislature is expected to address the issues during its session next year.
"Sun power can be an economic engine for South Carolina if we remove the roadblocks that have kept us behind," Holman said.