A critical agreement regulating the flow of solar-produced power from its source back to the electric grid was reached Thursday between conservation groups and utilities in South Carolina.
The settlement agreement ensures that homes, businesses, schools, churches and other nonprofit entities that use rooftop panels to produce solar power for their use also will be able to receive a full, one-to-one retail credit from the state’s utilities for excess power they generate that flows back to the electric grid. That means they will be credited for each kiolwatt hour they produce for the utility in the same amount it costs that utility to produce one kilowatt hour.
Though the agreement still must gain approval from the S.C. Public Service Commission, the settlement is nonetheless viewed as a giant step forward in implementing South Carolina’s new solar law, Act 236, signed by Gov. Nikki Haley in June, requiring utilities to increase their use of solar power.
Conservation groups and South Carolina utilities had clashed over the issue of unregulated, widespread energy production by non-utility sources, with the conservationists pushing for increased alternative energy production and individual rights to produce it.
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Utilities, meanwhile, had asserted it would take time for them to incorporate adjustments necessary for taking back energy produced by outside sources.
The parties on both sides of the solar power issue – the conservationists and the utilities – compromised over the rate structure for utility- versus privately-generated electricity. Under the compromise, the parties agreed that the value of a kilowatt hour of electricity generated from rooftop generators should be equal to the value of a kilowatt hour of power produced by the utilities and sold to users from the grid.
In a second major compromise in the agreement, the parties agreed there would be no additional solar-specific fees levied by the utilities against the solar generators. Both compromises remove roadblocks to private solar energy production and leave conservationists of all stripes pleased with the action.
“Today’s settlement represents a win for solar in South Carolina and is a testament to the consensus-based approach that continues to prove effective in advancing solar energy in the Palmetto State,” said Hamilton Davis, of the Coastal Conservation League in Charleston.
“We can expect that public support for local solar power will gain more traction as customers are fairly compensated for the power they generate.”
South Carolina became the 44th state to reach agreement with utilities on the solar net metering issue.
Under the settlement, residential and commercial utility customers who install solar panels on their rooftops before 2021, when the settlement agreement expires, will receive full retail credit for any excess power that flows back onto the electric grid. They also will be eligible to remain on this rate until Dec. 31, 2025 without any solar-specific charges or fees.
The utilities are to file, within 60 days of the settlement’s approval by the Public Service Commission, additional solar programs and incentives with the PSC designed to spur investments in residential and commercial solar use.
Those signing the solar agreement include the Southern Environmental Law Center, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, the Coastal Conservation League, the South Carolina Solar Business Alliance, the Office of Regulatory Staff, Sustainable Energy Solutions, S.C. Electric & Gas, Duke Energy Carolinas and others.
“South Carolina can build on initial progress to become more energy independent by encouraging residents to take advantage of the clean energy they are providing and reducing the need to invest in expensive power plants and transmission infrastructure,” said John Wilson, South Alliance for Clean Energy research director.