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SC lawmakers reach compromise to expand solar industry

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Bushy Park Solar Farm (copy)

A 1-megawatt solar farm opened this month at the Charleston International Manufacturing Center in Goose Creek. The S.C. Legislature passed a bill Wednesday to continue expanding the solar industry in the state. Provided/Marc Fetten

COLUMBIA — South Carolina lawmakers passed a compromise bill Wednesday that will allow the state's solar industry to continue expanding, ending a multi-year impasse over how to regulate the renewable energy source moving forward.

The bill's unanimous approval prompted cheers from solar advocates and utilities alike. The move followed months of haggling over the details of legislation to relieve constraints on an industry that has grown rapidly in South Carolina since a 2014 bill opened up the state's energy market.

After disagreements over rooftop solar tanked last year's effort, this year's dispute centered mostly around the length and pricing of large-scale solar projects.

A compromise amendment passed Wednesday in the Senate provides for a fixed, 10-year contract for large-scale solar projects that have been waiting in Duke Energy's queue and gives the state's utility regulators flexibility to determine contact lengths and prices for future projects.

The measure will also lift a cap on rooftop solar installations, a business that has created thousands of new jobs in South Carolina over the past few years.

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The long-awaited vote followed an aggressive push from solar advocates to build public support for the bill this year.

The Conservation Voters of South Carolina group reported making more than a million voter contacts through canvassing, mail and digital media to generate public interest in the bill.

State Rep. Peter McCoy, who spearheaded the effort in the House, said he will urge his colleagues to swiftly approve the Senate's updated version of the bill and send it to Gov. Henry McMaster's desk for him to sign.

"We’re taking solar to a level that it’s never been in our state before, even with this amendment, so I’m very happy with that," said McCoy, R-Charleston.

Duke Energy spokesman Ryan Mosier said the company is pleased that an agreement was reached on the issue, calling it "the next step in the right direction for solar policy in South Carolina."

Follow Jamie Lovegrove on Twitter @jslovegrove.

Jamie Lovegrove is a political reporter covering the South Carolina Statehouse, congressional delegation and campaigns. He previously covered Texas politics in Washington for The Dallas Morning News and in Austin for the Texas Tribune.

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