South Carolina utility regulators have reversed course in a case involving Dominion Energy and solar developers, bowing to public pressure and potentially opening the door to more competition in the energy market.
The S.C. Public Service Commission announced Friday it had reconsidered an earlier ruling that decided how much Dominion, an investor-owned utility, must pay solar developers who want to supply power to the grid in South Carolina.
The commission's earlier decision was widely criticized by environmental organizations and lawmakers who passed legislation last year to expand solar power in the state.
The solar industry argued the PSC's earlier decision could have prevented solar companies from obtaining loans and building new solar farms in South Carolina.
That's why the S.C. Solar Business Alliance asked the PSC to change its mind. They were joined in their request by a host of environmental groups, including the Coastal Conservation League and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.
The Conservation Voters of South Carolina, an environmental advocacy group, also sent a petition to the PSC, with its members calling on the utility regulators to increase the price solar developers can receive for the power they generate.
Dominion Energy did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment Friday.
In the past, the Richmond, Va.-based company argued against setting the price too high for independent solar farms. It points out that any cost the utility has to pay independent solar developers will be passed on to ratepayers of the former South Carolina Electric & Gas, which Dominion purchased in 2019.
Hamilton Davis, director of regulatory affairs for Southern Current, one of the state's independent solar companies, said he's still evaluating how the PSC's new decision will affect the solar industry in South Carolina.
He said the changes are generally good for the industry and likely improve the price developers can receive if they contract with Dominion.
"Overall, it's very positive," he said. "It's nice to see that the commission paid attention to the arguments that were made."
Blan Holman, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, agreed the decision was likely a win for those pushing to expand solar power in South Carolina.
"This is a positive step for lowering South Carolina power bills with clean energy market competition — exactly what the Legislature intended," Holman said.
The PSC's reversal could also signal a broader opening for the state's solar industry.
The solar business alliance is deciding whether to ask the PSC to reconsider two other rulings it made in cases involving Duke Energy's utilities in South Carolina. Those cases also frustrated the solar industry, which didn't get what they wanted out of the commissioners.
John Tynan, the CEO of the Conservation Voters of South Carolina, said he believes the utility regulators have recognized the public outcry their earlier decisions raised, especially among state lawmakers.
Two of the PSC members — Swain Whitfield and Comer "Randy" Randall — are up for re-election this year. It will be up to the same South Carolina lawmakers to decide whether they keep their jobs, which pay more than $100,000 per year.
"I think it's clear that the Public Service Commission has heard from the Legislature and the public that they want solar," Tynan said.