Santee Cooper solar panels (copy) (copy)

State-owned utility Santee Cooper lets customers buy energy output from the 14-acre Colleton Solar Farm in exchange for monthly billing credits. File

By TEE MILLER

South Carolina’s recent headlines tell a frustrating story about energy. The state has weathered the nuclear debacle at V.C. Summer, dangerous handling of coal ash, and unfortunately, some of the highest power rates in the country.

The underlying theme of these issues is the lack of energy freedom in our state.

The aforementioned headlines are proof that the way our state produces energy must change. South Carolinians deserve more access to free market-driven, clean, renewable and efficient power that will allow us to become more energy independent while reducing the cost burden on families and businesses without sacrificing reliability.

That is why we have formed a new group of conservative activists and leaders to make the case for more clean energy development in South Carolina. Conservatives for Clean Energy-SC will work hard to educate state policymakers and others on the economic, security and environmental benefits of a diversified energy portfolio that emphasizes renewable energy.

In the past, it might have seemed unusual to see conservatives advocating for clean energy, but not today. The abundance, reliability and affordability of energy affect all South Carolinians.

As conservatives, we believe that God created the world for His glory and that we must steward it for future generations. And as innovation and new technology make the once impossible possible, we need to change our preconceived notions about the future of the energy landscape.

We also support the United States achieving energy independence and we believe expanding the number of clean energy alternatives will allow us to get there. Our national security demands that we don’t just sit idly by and let our enemies dictate future energy policy to us.

If we really want to be energy independent, we need a diverse and clean all-of-the-above energy portfolio that includes sources like solar, wind, clean bio-fuel and hydro in addition to nuclear and natural gas.

We know these clean energy alternatives are already widely supported by South Carolinians across age, race, gender and political party lines, and we recognize that our citizens want to see more, not less, clean energy choices in the future.

The V.C. Summer debacle cost 5,000 South Carolinians their jobs and left our state’s ratepayers with billions in debt. Conservatives for Clean Energy believe there is a better way that will require policymakers and leaders to actively help power our clean energy future with conservative, free-market principles in mind.

Thankfully, there’s some recent good news to share. In 2014, the S.C. General Assembly passed Act 236 and Gov. Nikki Haley signed it into law. The bill gave solar consumers the right to net meter (to get paid for the extra energy their solar panels produce) and affordably lease solar systems.

Act 236 also created a gold rush of solar jobs in South Carolina, allowing the state to add over 3,000 jobs almost overnight. Million-dollar solar farms are popping up all over the state. Maybe most importantly, Act 236 brought homegrown energy to the forefront of people’s minds. Those who oppose locally produced clean energy can’t put that genie back in the bottle.

It makes economic and common sense for us to now explore even more sources of renewable energy. The bottom line is that we can champion energy progress and do so in a way that is faithful to our conservative pro-free market principles. Conservatives wholeheartedly support more energy competition and choice, but these two ingredients have been missing from our state’s ongoing energy discussion.

The CCE-SC Advisory Board includes Aiken Mayor Rick Osbon; Lindsay Agostini, a member of the Richland County School District 2 board; Graham Duncan, previous vice chairman for S.C. College Republicans; Nate Leupp, chairman of the Greenville County Republican Party; and Tee Miller, a former George W. Bush appointee to both the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Commerce.