There are lots of good reasons to consider solar power. Lower energy bills. A smaller carbon footprint. Free sunshine. Financial incentives. And new ways for people of ordinary means to afford it.
Except in South Carolina. Here, because of an outdated law and resistance from the utilities, only businesses and wealthy people can afford it.
This should be the year that the Legislature enacts a more helpful law. It would be in the interest of the people and the environment if solar companies could lease panels to homeowners.
Failure to correct this situation could hurt the state’s business economy, too. As Grant Reeves, senior vice president with The InterTech Group in North Charleston, says in a letter on this page, “Those companies that want to invest in solar projects will take their money where it is wanted.”
Boeing, for example, in negotiating with state officials trying to persuade the corporate giant to set up shop here, requested a 100 percent renewable energy site. The Boeing solar project, which is owned by SCE&G, accounts for most of the South Carolina’s tiny solar capacity.
Here’s the difficulty. The average Joe can’t afford to invest $20,000 in solar panels for his house. Nor can a small church or non-profit organization. But they might be able to afford the cost of renting a solar energy system, and solar leasing companies are eager to make that available to them.
Solar is only a small piece of the energy equation. And in South Carolina, it is less than in other states. But the state’s publicly regulated utilities see it as an erosion of their electricity business, and they see solar leasing companies as their competitors.
A House bill, introduced by Rep. James Smith, D-Richland, was recently set aside by a subcommittee. If revived and enacted, it would eliminate a roadblock to solar power. At present, a company that installs solar panels for people and sells the power back to the homeowners is considered a utility, and must be regulated as such.
Mr. Smith’s bill would allow those solar energy companies to conduct their business and not be considered utilities.
A companion bill is expected to be introduced soon in the Senate.
A little free market competition should do consumers some good. The utilities have what are essentially publicly-granted monopolies. And the amount of solar power that might be produced is a minuscule part of their financial pictures.
Discouraging solar power in South Carolina is wrong on many levels. It deprives citizens of potential cost savings. It dismisses a method for reducing air pollution and conserving fossil fuels. It gives business and industry a reason to look elsewhere to locate, because South Carolina appears stuck in the past. And it makes it unlikely the state will get new jobs related to solar power.
It’s time for utilities to put citizens’ best interests first and stockholders after.
And it’s time for the Legislature to give citizens solar power opportunities that other states give their citizens, no matter what the utilities’ strong lobby says.