Law expected to spark solar investment

By Chuck Crumbo
ccrumbo@scbiznews.com
Published June 10, 2014

A bill expected to spark investment by S.C. homeowners and businesses in solar energy has been passed by the General Assembly and signed by Gov. Nikki Haley.

Measure S.1189, also known as the Solar Energy Bill, allows the leasing of solar energy systems by non-utilities, updates net metering policies, establishes a voluntary Distributed Energy Resource program for utilities and allows utilities to recover renewable energy costs by using the annual fuel rider, according to the S.C. Clean Energy Business Alliance.

TIG Sun Energy, a subsidiary of The InterTech Group, based in North Charleston, is the owner and operator of the Colleton Solar Farm. (Photo/Santee Cooper)
Measure S.1189, also known as the Solar Energy Bill, allows the leasing of solar energy systems by non-utilities, updates net metering policies, establishes a voluntary Distributed Energy Resource program for utilities and allows utilities to recover renewable energy costs by using the annual fuel rider, according to the S.C. Clean Energy Business Alliance. (Photo/Santee Cooper)
"This bill really represents a collaboration, a partnership and a vision to advance the renewable energy market in South Carolina on a level we've never seen before," said Jim Poch, executive director of the alliance.

A partnership involving the alliance, The InterTech Group, S.C. Electric & Gas Co., Santee Cooper, The Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina and the Coastal Conservation League supported the measure. Haley signed the bill June 2.

“Getting the environmental groups, utilities and the business community together to develop positive and essential solar energy legislation is the only reason this bill was so successful,” Poch said.

The groups began working together a year ago to support the measure, said Hamilton Davis, director of the Coastal Conservation League’s energy and climate program.

“We strive to find area for collaboration in all the work we do,” Davis said.

According to the league, provisions of the law also include:

  • Raising the limit on the size of commercial solar power systems, which are now capped at 100 kilowatts, to 1 megawatt.
  • Increasing the statewide limit of the aggregate amount of solar power eligible for net metering programs to 2%.
  • Encouraging utilities to add more solar power to their grids.

The measure also allows for leasing options, which may make solar more attractive to homeowners, Davis said.

Installing a solar system for a single-family home could cost $10,000 to $15,000, money that homeowners might prefer to invest in new kitchen cabinets and countertops, Davis said.

Allowing systems to be rented could lead to the creation of new businesses to lease solar power systems, as well as manufacturers of the systems.

For businesses, raising the cap on the system’s size to 1 MW will allow for the installation of larger systems that could lead to greater savings on a company’s power bill.

“I don’t think it will revolutionize the power industry overnight,” Davis said. “But we certainly think it will gain steam over the coming years.”

The law “will build nicely on what Santee Cooper has accomplished with our solar program,” said utility spokeswoman Mollie Gore.

In January, Santee Cooper joined in the dedication of a 3-MW solar complex in Colleton County.

TIG Sun Energy, a subsidiary of The InterTech Group, based in North Charleston, is the owner and operator of the Colleton Solar Farm.

Santee Cooper, along with Central Electric Power Cooperative and the state’s electric cooperatives, is purchasing the total energy output of the farm and studying data about the costs and integration of utility-scale solar power.

“It’s a classic example of small steps together make a big difference,” Gore said. “We think it’s a good step forward for South Carolina and really appreciate that it was a collaborative effort that involved all of the state’s utilities.”

The law should be beneficial for all of the Palmetto State, said a spokeswoman for SCE&G, principal subsidiary of Cayce-based energy provider SCANA.

“We are pleased with the passage of the bill, and we are proud to have been part of the collaborative process to develop this important legislation,” said SCE&G’s Emily Brady. “It provides us a strong foundation for integrating more renewable energy.”

In November, SCE&G announced plans to place up to 20 MW of new solar energy on its system, with installations in multiple locations, as the company launches a renewable energy business team.

Its first 2-MW solar farm is planned to be built this year on seven acres near the Lake Murray Dam.

In addition, SCE&G said its new Renewable Energy Products and Services team will develop a strategy for the design, implementation and marketing of renewable energy resources such as solar, wind and biomass.

The bill is the second significant piece of clean energy legislation to be passed by the Legislature and signed into law this year. In May, Haley signed a bill creating the Clean Energy Industry Manufacturing Market Development Advisory Commission.

The 14-member commission will act under the S.C. Department of Commerce to analyze and recommend ways to enhance the clean energy manufacturing sector in the state. It also would assist in the development of new manufacturing supply chains and markets for clean energy technology, materials and products.

Reach Chuck Crumbo at 803-726-7542.

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