S.C. solar bill might not see light

Two weeks ago in this space, I noted time was running short on a bill in the state legislature that would give so-called angel investors a tax credit for putting money into local start-ups.

According to its supporters, the Bill Wylie Entrepreneurship Act of 2011 would not only boost those small businesses but also bring South Carolina into line with North Carolina, Georgia and several other states.

Well, that bill is still in the Senate Finance Committee, and keeping it company is another bill that also proposes a 35 percent tax credit and that, according to its supporters, would also support small businesses and put the Palmetto State on equal footing with its neighbors.

H. 3346 proposes to increase the existing tax credit for solar energy projects from 25 percent and increases the cap from $3,500 across the board to as much as $10,500 for residential projects and $2.5 million for commercial projects.

Andrew Streit, founder of the South Carolina Solar Business Alliance, said the payback period for a business's $500,000 solar investment in North Carolina and Georgia is 4.7 and 4.6 years, respectively. Here, it's 10 years, but his bill could cut that time in half.

“So just on a state-competitive basis, if you want to attract businesses that have sustainability mandates…and companies that have those kinds of business practices are BMW, Boeing, Bosch — you know, major employers in the state — if we want to attract more of those, this would be smart economic development,” said Streit, who is director of project management for Charleston-based SolBright Renewable Energy.

SolBright was involved in Boeing's rooftop installation, but an amendment to the H. 3346 moved the eligibility period forward to 2012, after Boeing's acres of panels went live.

Rather than a principled opposition to the bill based on its estimated $271,000 annual cost or some other reason, Streit said the main obstacle has been “timing.”

“We had legitimate concern from a finance member, but unfortunately that put us behind the budget,” he said. The Senate is due to take up the budget on Tuesday, possibly taking time that could've been spent on the remaining law proposals.

Streit called himself “an eternal optimist” but admitted his bill, which has passed the House, is running out of time.

“We've got to see action,” he said.