Starting later this year, some SCE&G customers who use solar panels will be able to save on their monthly utility bills because of new, more generous incentives.
Under a unanimous order issued last week by the state Public Service Commission, the typical residential customer with solar panels installed this year will save about 6 cents more per kilowatt hour of power their system generates, Leigh Ford, a state consumer advocate for utility rates, said Tuesday.
The combined incentives for homeowners would be equal to as much as 20 cents per kilowatt hour generated, Ford said. The reward comes in the form of bill credits, she said.
The better incentive is retroactive to systems installed since Jan. 1, 2015, said Dukes Scott, director of the Office of Regulatory Staff, which employs Ford.
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Schools and nonprofits, such as churches, could receive as much as 22 cents per kilowatt hour generated under the commission’s ruling, they said.
On average, a residential system costs about $25,000 to install, said Sara Hummel Rajca of Solarized South Carolina, which promotes solar energy. But the actual cost and savings can vary depending on the size of the structures and exposure to direct sunlight, Rajca and the consumer advocates said.
Former Upstate Congressman Bob Inglis said in a published letter on behalf of Solarized SC that the average cost of solar installation for homes has fallen 50 percent in the past five years. “Solarized South Carolina is designed to simplify the decision to install solar,” Inglis wrote on behalf of the organization. “Working closely with local installers from Charleston to Greenville, (the organization) helps homeowners understand the process and get the best price.”
Solarize SC has partnered with two South Carolina installers – one each in the Upstate and the Lowcountry: Sunstore Solar and Alder Energy Systems, respectively.
The new incentives come on the heels of an older program that grew from a separate agreement reached with for-profit utilities and formalized by the PSC, Ford said.
The commission has yet to finalize the billing mechanism for the earlier program, called “net metering,” Ford said. That is slowing the more generous incentives adopted last week because the programs are linked. “The implementation is not the fault of the commission and is merely as required under state law,” she said.
A date-certain start for the newer program is not clear, though South Carolina Electric & Gas Co. has agreed to offer it roughly within 90 days, Ford said.
SCE&G spokeswoman Emily Brady said the utility projects the new incentives will expand its solar customers from some 300 to about 4,000 residential and 800 others by the end of 2020.
The incentives will start at 4 cents per kilowatt hour for all solar systems and last for 10 years, Brady said. “Ultimately,” she said, “(it) will lead to shorter payback periods.”
Reach LeBlanc at (803) 771-8308.