Post and Courier
August 30, 2014

Just the facts about solar

Posted: 12/01/2013 12:01 a.m.

For years, South Carolina has met the subject of solar power with considerable misinformation, and resulting mistrust. That could be about to change. Finally.

A special Energy Advisory Council has all but completed months of exhaustive research in its mission to sort fact from fiction. The report in its draft form will be considered at a public hearing on Dec. 11 and finalized by the end of the year.

The report provides solid data about the growing demand for solar energy, other states’ regulatory path to solar energy and potential related cost benefits and deficits. Its findings are clear: There is no good reason South Carolina can’t do better than it does now.

The information should be carefully considered by the Public Service Commission and the Legislature.

Two measures related to making South Carolina more solar-friendly remain on the General Assembly’s schedule. The report gives legislators plenty of reasons to open their minds to the measures.

One would provide homes and businesses more access to solar energy, which is now greatly restricted.

The other would allow third-party financing of solar energy, which is now forbidden. Solar leasing was due to be discussed at a public hearing early this fall, but the PSC canceled the meeting at the request of the utilities. That was both a pity and a sign of utilities’ discomfort with solar energy discussions.

Homeowners in South Carolina, as well as businesses and organizations, have indicated they want more options to use solar energy. Even the utilities themselves are pursuing some solar energy programs. But they have balked at the idea of allowing others to increase solar efforts, fearing their revenue would be whittled away. Realistically, this alternative energy source by itself will never be able to meet all the state’s needs.

The Public Service Commission, which regulates the industry, and the Legislature have bowed to utility pressures, so the state remains one of the least progressive when it comes to solar energy.

With new insights and sound data, legislators should have an easier time seeing the merit of the pending bills.

The report says that solar energy is competitive, and it’s gaining momentum. Legislators can only conclude that South Carolina should make necessary changes to prepare for it.

According to the EAC’s research, increasing solar energy production will mean savings for consumers while costing utilities. But an estimated loss of $55 million is miniscule as compared to utilities’ $7.1 billion in revenue.

At some point, the PSC and the Legislature will have to do what’s right for the state’s citizens, and for its environment — even if it means that utility stockholders see slightly smaller dividends.

People want solar energy to help them save money, but also to be kind to the environment by reducing the need to use fossil fuels.

It’s time for sunny South Carolina to see the light about solar energy and its future, and to make way for South Carolina consumers to embrace its use.