Disappointing Outcome for Solar Industry in South Carolina—At Least for Now

 

Prior to 2014, there was virtually no solar industry in the state of South Carolina. Remarkably,  only a few years after then-Governor Nikki Haley signed Act 236,  3,000 jobs have been created. It is a testimony to the unparalleled impact clean energy development can have on a state’s economy—which is why a recent move by the South Carolina House of Representatives has been so shocking.

Although it launched the solar industry in the state, Act 236 also established a 2 percent cap on net metering as a sort of test run in order to get a wide range of stakeholders to agree to try more solar solutions on a limited basis. Net metering should not be controversial—it is simply a billing mechanism that credits solar energy system owners for the electricity they add to the grid. The cap seemed reasonable at the time, but the latest reports suggest South Carolina customers will reach the existing net metering cap as early as next month.

As great as Act 236 has been, its own success has quickly made it obsolete; so CRES Forum and our partners and allies in South Carolina have been pushing for a new bill, H. 4421, to eliminate the cap and promote further investment in solar in the state. Among other things, it offered solar incentives and shifted some of those costs onto utilities.

Our coalition has worked hard to get H. 4421 passed. Leading up to last week’s vote in the House, CRES Forum co-hosted a “Clean Energy Forum” in Columbia in March, and our friends at the Palmetto Conservative Solar Coalition (PCSC) organized a very well-attended and energetic rally on the steps of the Statehouse a few weeks ago.

More importantly, South Carolina consumers clearly want access to solar energy—regardless of their political affiliation. Conservatives are getting behind solar because they recognize the further potential for economic growth and job creation.

As we expected, the bill passed the South Carolina House with a solid 61-44 majority vote. But when what is usually a mere procedural vote was taken a week later, it was revealed that opponents had unearthed a provision in the South Carolina Constitution that called for a two-thirds vote on bills that exempt property taxes (in the case, solar equipment), causing it to fail.

We are deeply disappointed, but we vow to continue this fight, and others are speaking up.

“We are deeply upset that the jobs of 3,000 South Carolina workers are now at risk due to a technicality, especially after the House voted with a clear majority to move the bill forward,” said the Solar Energy Industries Association Vice President Sean Gallagher.

“We urge the state Senate to take up this legislation. It is vital to protecting South Carolina jobs and giving consumers the choice they deserve to lower their energy bills.”

Additionally, a number of newspapers across the state wrote scathing opinion pieces, such as this one from the Post and Courier, and it seems to be having an impact.

It now looks like both sides of the solar debate have reached out to work on compromise language for the solar cap. The House and the Senate will both try to take up solar legislation in the next week—although if a compromise is reached, it would still need another vote in the House to get final approval.

Fortunately, the chances of that happening appear much greater now than they did even a few days ago.

Follow CRES at @Citiz4Solutions on Twitter for the latest updates.

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