A solar energy bill ceremonially signed into law last week may not represent an overwhelming turning point in South Carolina’s future, but it’s a step in the right direction.
The new law removes unneeded barriers to make solar power more accessible for users, which should create benefits across South Carolina.
S.C. Sen. Greg Gregory, R-Lancaster, who helped move the bill through the legislature, explained that one of the main objectives of the law is to help save residents money.
“Typically, if one was to put solar panels on their house, they’re looking at probably a minimum $20,000 investment, but you can lease them, just like you could lease a car, for much less, and then the excess electricity (that’s sold back to utility companies) further helps mitigate the costs,” Gregory said.
Before this proposal became law, this kind of leasing wasn’t allowed. In signing the bill, Republican S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley brings our state more in-line with other states throughout the country, particular Western states, that help residents and businesses offset the cost of installing solar panels.
The specifics of the bill unfortunately do remain somewhat vague.
Dukes Scott, executive director of the South Carolina Office of Regulatory Staff, which represents the public’s interest in utility regulation, told The Washington Post that the terms of the leases and other incentives will be decided by companies offering the equipment and the state’s Public Service Commission at a later date. That decision-making will include what rate the utility companies will pay customers for the electricity that goes back onto the grid.
Regardless, this law represents an opportunity to establish a long-term market for a renewable energy resource such as solar. As Haley said during her press conference last week, this will also keep us in step with our neighboring states.
“When you look at North Carolina and you look at Georgia, they’ve been doing pretty well when it comes to solar energy, and they don’t have any more sun than we do,” Haley said.
This measure shouldn’t be seen as the state trying to prop up an ineffective or unfeasible method of producing energy. While some states have nursed the solar industry through subsidies, this law’s largest impact should be to make the installation of solar panels more affordable.
According to The Economist, solar power is providing electricity to the grid in some places as cheaply as conventional coal- or gas-fired power plants.
Additionally, solar panels have halved in price since 2008, and the capital cost of a solar-power plant – of which panels account for slightly under half – fell by 22 percent in 2010-13, according to the publication.
As Gregory said, however, the price to the average consumer is still relatively high, and this initiative will wisely drive down that cost. Programs to make solar more accessible have clearly benefited our neighboring states, and it’s a positive sign for South Carolina’s future that we’re following suit.
Julie Hairston, communications director for Georgia Solar, a group comprised of leading experts in solar, said a program initiated by Georgia Power in that state has greatly opened up the availability of solar energy.
“It’s been a wonderful boost to the solar market here, and it’s producing a lot of jobs and investment all over the state,” Hairston said.
The program, known as Georgia Power Advanced Solar Initiative, is the largest voluntary solar program in the nation, and the state is on pace to go from generating only about 20 megawatts a few years ago to 700 megawatts by the end of 2016. That kind of turnaround means there’s an untapped potential for job creation in South Carolina.
Fortunately, through the work of the legislature, the governor, conservation groups and the state’s utility companies, South Carolina is on the right track toward establishing cheaper energy costs, as well as much-needed economic development.