South Carolina utility companies do not want you to install solar panels on your roof. It’s pretty obvious why. Not only do homeowners with solar panels buy less power, but they actually get compensated for the power they put back into the grid.
It’s a good — and fair — deal for homeowners willing to make a big investment in their financial security, property value and environmental health. It’s a decidedly less attractive deal for, say, SCANA shareholders.
So it should come as little surprise that the state’s utility companies are trying to roll back the minimal and, again, fair benefits that current solar-powered homeowners enjoy. Lawmakers should block that effort.
This week, the state House is expected to debate two very different solar bills.
One would roll back the absurdly low 2 percent statewide cap on peak rooftop solar generation, allowing more homes to take advantage of solar at competitive rates.
It’s a critical measure, and one that needs to pass quickly. Duke Energy is already near the limit. SCE&G is expected to reach it as early as next year. There’s no reason to arbitrarily cap the number of people who can take full advantage of solar power in South Carolina.
The other bill would also lift the cap, but in doing so would gut so-called “net metering,” which requires utilities to reimburse solar panel owners for the electricity they pump into the grid at a 1-to-1 rate. Not surprisingly, it has the backing of utility companies and utility-friendly lawmakers.
But a kilowatt of electricity is a kilowatt, whether it was produced in a coal-fired power plant or from the sun hitting a neighbor’s roof. It doesn’t make any difference to a laptop charger or a light bulb where the electricity comes from. It certainly doesn’t make any difference to a utility customer.
Utility companies argue that net metering puts other customers at an economic disadvantage because those without solar panels are forced to spend more to cover the infrastructure that supplies solar-powered homes with energy when the sun isn’t shining.
To a certain extent, that’s true. There are other fees solar customers pay, however, that can help cover those costs. And even if non-solar customers were left to shoulder the entire infrastructure burden, it would be such a minuscule portion of their bills that most wouldn’t even notice — unlike the whopping 18 percent that SCE&G customers continue to pay for the failed nuclear reactor project, for example.
Besides, the benefits of solar extend beyond just the homes with panels. Solar power means cleaner air and a more stable climate for everybody. There’s no fracking involved or toxic waste to dispose. And investing in solar rather than big-ticket projects like nuclear reactors or a new natural gas plant helps save every customer money in the long run by reducing overall energy demand.
There’s really no downside — except to the utilities’ bottom line. And even that tends to get exaggerated. After all, producing less power means they save money too. But the convoluted way in which state-regulated utilities are allowed to turn a profit encourages them to spend money rather than cut costs. That also should change.
In the meantime, customers should come first. And solar power benefits customers.
The state Legislature needs to lift the cap on rooftop solar and create as friendly of an environment as possible for its expansion in South Carolina. We get a lot of sunshine here. We ought to put it to good use.