Columbia, SC — South Carolina lags behind our peers in solar energy infrastructure. While some people don’t see this as a problem, there is evidence from our neighboring states that there is a strong market for solar energy. There are businesses that would create jobs and invest in our state and property owners who would install solar under the right conditions.
One step that could help is a bill that would allow third parties to pay for the installation of a solar system and lease it to the property owner. Property owners make monthly payments and benefit from generating electricity that lowers their utility bill. Known as solar leasing, it accounted for more than 70 percent of new installations last year in California, Arizona and Colorado, three of the top five states based on installed capacity. In South Carolina, the Public Service Commission says the third party is a utility and subject to regulation. As a result, solar leasing doesn’t exist here.
Solar leasing enlarges the market for solar installations by removing the huge upfront investment for homeowners, and this creates jobs and strengthens the utility grid with renewable energy.
With the cost of solar dropping 40 percent in the past two years and new financing options available, solar energy works more than ever before. But while U.S. solar energy has quadrupled from 1,100 megawatts in 2008 to more than 6,400 megawatts today, South Carolina’s share is a rounding error at only 4 megawatts (mostly due to Boeing’s 2.6 megawatt solar array on its new facility).
With electricity rates rising faster than inflation, high unemployment and only three more years to take advantage of the federal tax credit, now is the time for policymakers to help the citizens of South Carolina by passing legislation that gives us free-market options and jobs.
Leasing solar panels to a homeowner is not operating as a utility any more than if the homeowner bought the panels. This legislation is a common-sense fix that allows more of our citizens to choose solar. Those companies that want to invest in solar projects will take their money where it is wanted, and right now that is Georgia, North Carolina and the other 13 states and the District of Columbia that allow solar leasing.