Sopher: Has SC lost sight of its free-market values?

September 25, 2013 

Sopher

— Last week, the Public Service Commission approved an electric rate increase of nearly 3 percent for SCE&G, its sixth rate increase in four years.

And those rates are expected to go up even further. The Charleston Regional Business Journal reports SCE&G will be seeking rate increases of roughly 4 percent to 5 percent a year through 2015 to cover the rising costs of two nuclear reactors under construction in Fairfield County. That $10.6 billion project is being paid for entirely by ratepayers, in advance, thanks to the Legislature’s passage of the Base Load Review Act, which forces them to finance the expensive project. In a state ranked among the poorest in the nation, we can ill afford these high rates.

Meanwhile, electricity rates are going down for tens of thousands of homeowners in more than a dozen states that have opened their doors to solar energy leasing, which enables homeowners to pay little or no money down to install solar panels on their rooftops.

The homeowner’s monthly fee for a solar lease is typically at least 10 percent lower than his current electric bill. Savings have been as much as 50 percent in states with net metering, which requires utilities to purchase the excess solar energy.

Solar power turns homes and businesses into miniature power plants, with the ability to sell that power back to the grid. And since solar power peaks at midday, which also is the point of highest electricity use, it reduces the need for more expensive power plants, like SCE&G’s $10.6 billion nuclear power project.

So far, S.C. legislators have blocked solar leasing from entering our state, a slap to competition, free-market ideals and ratepayers who are paying the highest average electric rates in the South.

SCE&G has enjoyed 100 years as a monopoly with guaranteed profits and no competition. It was given this monopoly in return for serving the public. The public would be better served by removing the legal barriers to solar leasing and letting the sun shine in.

Nancy Sopher

Irmo

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