Solar power boosters keep 'pressure' on lawmakers

sfretwell@thestate.comFebruary 18, 2014 

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Solar power boosters implored the public Monday to support efforts to make sun panels more affordable for homeowners, non-profit groups and businesses in South Carolina.

During a forum at the University of South Carolina, solar businessman Andrew Streit and Sierra Club representatives said the time is right for the Legislature to pass bills that support sun power after years of resistance. Streit and Sierra Club lobbyist Benton Wislinski said state lawmakers are paying attention to public support for more solar friendly laws.

But "if we don't all keep the pressure up, then it may not happen,'' Streit said.

Utilities, which have substantial influence on the Legislature, have been reluctant in the past to support easing restrictions on solar energy, fearing lost profits. They say solar has costs that could affect ratepayers who don't use solar panels.

Monday night's forum, sponsored by the Sierra Club, drew about 50 people. Those included club members as well as state Rep. James Smith, D-Richland, and Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg.

Smith said South Carolina needs solar industry jobs that now are going to other states. More solar friendly laws would help solar companies do business in South Carolina, he said.

"We are missing out,'' Smith said. "I want those jobs in South Carolina.''

Two primary bills are before the Legislature that would ease solar restrictions. One would increase solar tax credits. That made it out of a committee recently and is now before the full Senate. But that bill has an objection from state Sen, Kevin Bryant, R-Anderson, which makes passage difficult.

The other bill would allow solar companies to set up shop in South Carolina. Those companies help people pay for solar panels, which despite dropping panel prices, are still too expensive for many people to afford. Current law makes it difficult for these companies to move into the territories of power companies, install solar panels on people's roofs and sell the power back to homeowners, which can cut power bills. Power companies are now working on a compromise bill.

Many states have made solar power easier for homeowners to afford, mostly in the West. South Carolina, however, has some of the least solar friendly laws in the country, The State newspaper reported last year. Solar energy not only can save people money, but it doesn't produce toxic waste like that from nuclear power plants or air pollution like that from coal plants.

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