It isn’t easy to justify ignoring a chance to lower power bills, reduce reliance on fossil fuels and chip away at air pollution. But the S.C. Legislature did just that this year.

Consumers lost out, at least for the present, because legislators didn’t have the backbone to make big utilities even a little unhappy.

At issue is a bill that would allow companies to help people and organizations finance solar panels for homes and other buildings. Solar panels in sunny South Carolina make sense, but buying and installing them are beyond most people’s financial means.

Similar programs have been enacted in other states, and have proven successful.

But electric power companies here are apprehensive that solar panels could nibble away at their business.

They are not in business to let a potential competitor get a foothold, no matter how small. And apparently, they have an undue influence on legislative decision making.

There was ample time for the Legislature to enact a plan that would benefit consumers and the environment, particularly in view of the general lack of legislative achievement this year. Instead, the solar panel proposal was shunted off to a committee for further review.

Meanwhile, federal financial incentives for solar power are good only through 2016.

Utilities in South Carolina operate as monopolies within their respective service areas.

People who are, for example, dissatisfied with SCE&G can’t simply switch over to Berkeley Electric Cooperative even if it’s less expensive.

Consumers must rely on the Legislature to represent their best interests. But the Legislature failed to do so in this instance.

Our elected officials in Columbia like to talk about the merits of a free marketplace, but they forget all about it when powerful utilities balk at even the slightest competition.

As SCE&G customers are being battered by rate increase after rate increase — two a year for the past several years and more to come — both the Legislature and the S.C. Public Service Commission (which regulates utilities) should realize the hardship that consumers are enduring.

Though the solar-leasing bill was given short shrift in the House, there was significant bipartisan support for the measure in the Senate. So there is some hope for the next legislative year.

Providing for solar panel leasing could ease the pain, albeit slightly, and reduce emissions.

Competition is a good thing for consumers — and for business.

Surely our elected representatives and senators can recognize that.