March 29, 2014

Solar business group blasts proposed SC law

Group says S.C. energy bill unfairly favors utilities over private sector

Cracks in a carefully crafted solar energy bill for South Carolina emerged Friday as a renewable energy business group criticized the legislation now before the state Senate.

The Alliance for Solar Choice, which represents some of the country’s major rooftop solar companies, began contacting the media Friday to complain that the highly technical, 17-page bill unfairly favors utilities over the private solar market.

“This is what the utilities do when they are trying to hide something; they create complicated bills,” said Bryan Miller, a San Francisco area resident and president of the association.

The bill was intended to relax restrictions on solar power in South Carolina so that people can more easily afford sun panels on their roofs. The idea has been to make the market more attractive for rooftop solar companies to provide panels at better prices, which can save money on power bills.

But Miller said the bill doesn’t do that. He said one section of the proposed law allows utilities to control the rooftop solar market.

Power companies have been reluctant until recently to support legislation that would allow solar companies to move into South Carolina, one of the nation’s least friendly states toward sun power. But utilities and solar energy advocates in South Carolina recently struck a compromise.

Until Friday, no one had publicly criticized the compromise, which passed a Senate subcommittee Thursday.

A spokesman for Duke Energy, which supports the bill, said the legislation will help South Carolina.

“It is .... comprehensive, collaborative and forward-looking,” Duke spokesman Ryan Mosier said in an email Friday afternoon. “If this bill becomes law, South Carolina can be the national model for how solar growth can be successful and fair to all stakeholders.”

Hamilton Davis, a solar power advocate involved in negotiations with power companies, said he spoke briefly with the alliance Friday, but needs more information to understand the group’s concerns. Davis is energy director with the S.C. Coastal Conservation League, one of the state’s most influential environmental groups.

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