Solar advocacy groups rail against S.C. energy bill

By Ashley Boncimino
Published April 9, 2014

A subcommittee in the state Senate overwhelmingly approved a landmark rooftop solar energy bill that would allow solar leasing companies to sell rooftop solar systems and the electricity generated.

But not everyone is on board. Solar energy advocacy groups have taken issue with the bill, saying it includes wording that would unfairly favor major utilities, such as Duke Energy, over smaller private companies in the market.

“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,” said Susan Glick, a spokesperson for The Alliance for Solar Choice, which represents several national private solar installation companies. “It's an example of the monopoly utility trying to ban customer choice because they are afraid to compete in the free market.”

The bill, S.C. state Senate bill S. 536, is aimed at relaxing restrictions on solar power in South Carolina and is the first of its kind in the state.

Duke Energy spokesman Ryan Mosier said the company supported the bill as amended. “We think it’s a comprehensive, collaborative and forward-looking approach to the topic. If it becomes law, this state can become the national model for how solar growth can be successful and fair to all stakeholders.

After months of discussion between utilities, environmentalists and state solar energy groups, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 19-1 to send the bill to the full chamber for consideration.

According to solar interest groups, however, the bill permits major utilities such as Duke to own and control solar panel installations on homes and businesses. This undermines the independent and competitive rooftop solar offerings, according to solar advocacy group Tell Utilities Solar Won’t Be Killed.

According to Glick, the bill is anti-competitive because larger utilities, such as Duke, have a guaranteed rate of return on investment in solar installations. Independent companies don’t have that guarantee, said Glick.

“The pure fact that the monopoly can invest in and recover the cost of rooftop solar is the crux that this issue,” said Glick.

Reach Ashley Boncimino at 864-235-5677, ext. 103 or @ashleyboncimino.

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