- A collaboratively written solar power bill passed the South Carolina Senate Judiciary Committee overwhelmingly Tuesday, but instead of winning accolades from national solar power companies, it drew strong criticism. According to solar companies from outside the state, the measure lets utilities, especially Duke Energy, shut others out of the business.
- “Duke wants to block competition so that they can build rooftop solar, but their customers can’t, and local businesses in the state can’t, either,” Susan Glick, spokeswoman for The Alliance for Solar Choice, told Utility Dive. The alliance, whose members are major national players, is fighting the bill.
- The legislation was drafted in months of negotiations between utilities, in-state solar interests and environmentalists. The in-state interests still support the bill. According to the South Carolina Solar Business Alliance, there’s a misperception that utilities would necessarily have their solar investments approved by utility regulators. Not so, President Grant Reeves said. Utilities would have to justify their solar investments, and regulators could favor competing third parties instead. “There are no carte blanche benefits given to the utilities,” he said.
- “The South Carolina solar industry was at the table and helped craft this bill,” said Mollie Gore, spokeswoman for Santee Cooper, the state-owned utility. “I’m not sure why somebody from California is getting involved.”
Utilities have been getting hammered by solar industry groups’ victories in states where conservative groups have pushed anti-renewables policies. Duke and other utilities thus may be seen as having done very well in South Carolina, avoiding confrontation and participating in a package that all sides say is a good deal. South Carolina has so little solar power, especially for a Southern state, that any modest program is viewed as progress. But the big national solar players don’t think so.
Whether it will be fruitful to attack Duke in particular – one group is raising charges made about Duke's coziness with regulators in neighboring North Carolina, in connection with February’s coal ash spill – remains to be seen. So far, South Carolina’s decision-makers appear satisfied to have made their own policy, in their own way. Will it last?