Solar power finally is becoming affordable and economically advantageous to the average business and homeowner. Unfortunately, South Carolina seems more concerned about protecting the interests of traditional power companies than encouraging a cheap and environmentally friendly source of energy.
Solar power advocates had arranged with the S.C. Public Service Commission to hold a Sept. 12 public workshop to discuss how the state could improve its solar power rules, which critics say are among the least customer friendly in the nation. But under pressure from the state’s electric cooperatives, the PSC canceled the workshop.
The cooperatives, which are not enthusiastic about an increase in solar power in the state, argue that the PSC should wait until a legislatiive committee finishes its study of alternate energy issues before holding the workshop. That report is slated to be completed by Dec. 31, and the cooperatives are helping develop the report.
But solar power advocates, including the former director of the S.C. Energy Office, say there is no reason to wait for the report. Now is as good a time as any to get public feedback on ways to improve the state’s energy policies.
“I know of no good reason that open public discussion of the costs and benefits of solar energy should not occur,” said John Clark, former director of the state Energy Office. “Open public discussion in the PSC forum should occur – and it should occur now.”
The state’s rules governing the use of solar power need to be reviewed and revised. For example, the state has set a limit of 100 kilowatts of solar energy capacity for businesses and schools, far lower than the caps in about two dozen other states.
Once a school or business reaches the limit, it can’t add more solar panels to produce heat and light. The state also has lower tax incentives to install solar than neighboring states such as North Carolina. And state law discourages solar energy companies from locating here and providing low-cost panels to homeowners.
Twenty nine states require power companies to draw certain percentages of their energy from alternate sources, such as wind and solar. And in many states, if homeowners or businesses produce more solar power than they can use, they can sell it to the power companies.
But South Carolina doesn’t require power companies to draw any of their energy from wind or solar. That leaves solar power producers in the state at a distinct disadvantage.
It appears that the utilities – with the cooperation of state officials – are doing everything they can to discourage the spread of alternate sources of energy. And that’s bad news for a variety of reasons.
One thing South Carolina has an ample supply of is sun. Residents should be able to tap into that resource to save money on energy expenses.
But there are other reasons to embrace solar energy. It’s clean, releasing no pollution or toxic waste, unlike coal-generated energy.
Even nuclear energy, the darling of S.C. utility companies, produces hazardous nuclear waste that the nation still has not figured out what to do with.
South Carolina also has an incentive to promote the growth of solar power for economic development. While it has occurred somewhat under the radar, the solar power industry, with new ways to make cheaper, sturdier solar panels, is exploding.
China, especially, is focused on developing and selling solar panels worldwide. The industry there is heavily subsidized by the government with an eye on cornering a large segment of the international market.
But U.S. companies are becoming more competitive, especially when federal tax incentives are part of the mix. And South Carolinians ought to be able to take advantage of this trend.
S.C. cooperatives claim the legislative committee will address these issues. But that’s no reason to stifle public discussion of state policies governing solar power.
Solar power and traditional power sources can coexist side by side. Other states have proven that.
It’s time for South Carolina to get on board.