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Guest Editorial: Solar power in S.C. means competition for the big utilities

August 1, 2018

One year ago, more than 5,000 South Carolinians showed up early to work, only to find their job site was locked and their jobs were deleted from the market. While they headed back home to prepare their families for the difficulties that lay ahead, those responsible for the decision were earning millions of dollars in bonuses from South Carolina Electric and Gas.

The now-doomed expansion at the V.C. Summer Nuclear Power Plant took billions of dollars through electricity bills, eliminated thousands of jobs, and never once provided a product or service to the people. That gave our lawmakers a chance to act on our behalf and reshape the energy future of our state – only they didn’t act.

In the waning moments of the special session, they temporarily lowered the amount SCE&G collects from your power bill. Giving credit where it is due, they also added a consumer advocate position to help protect ratepayers from future utility decisions by the state. But considering they had 12 months, and many other opportunities, it feels like they only accomplished the bare minimum.

Utility companies are giant corporations with monopoly-like control. If you don’t think so, try moving to a new home and finding two companies competing for your electricity business. Or try starting a small utility startup in your neighborhood. With so much power over so many lives, putting in a single consumer advocate seems like a consolation prize for those left footing the bill.

At the last minute, senators on the budget conference committee removed an item that would have doubled the limit on solar power net metering. Net metering means that people with solar panels earn equal money for each kilowatt they produce. The utilities lobbied against that idea twice this session, and for good reason.

Net metering lowers power bills for everyone, not just those with solar panels, and it provides jobs for our communities. If we extend some form of net-metering, we encourage residents to invest in solar panels for their energy independence.

That also means more jobs for South Carolina based businesses.

When more homes and businesses produce their own electricity, they use less from the public grid. That leaves more power available for others, even during peak hours. With lower demand, fewer of the peak power plants have to power up, meaning generation is less costly. When you have lower generation costs, and lower demand, you have lower prices for consumers. Net metering lowers power bills for everyone.

Solar power also means competition for the big utilities. It means they cannot so easily control the electricity rates, and it gives individuals more options for where they get their power. Many local energy cooperatives and other utilities now have community solar programs where you can opt-in to purchase from solar generation. That takes some of the demand off of those big plants, meaning better prices on the market for all.

A diversified power portfolio is important, and big changes cannot be successfully put into place overnight. But a glorious part of human existence and evolution on this planet is progress and adaptation. If we expect to keep things the same, we cannot also expect to grow.

The people of this state deserve a chance to lead the nation in energy development and consumer protections, and not be locked into decisions our lawmakers deliver, paid for by well-funded lobbyists. Going into the second year of the V.C. Summer failure, we have a chance to stand up for a brighter future in the Palmetto State. It isn’t an easy task, but if we stand together as a community, we can make anything happen.

— S.C. Conservation Voters

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