Every year around the summer solstice, South Carolina enjoys — some will say endures — nearly 15 hours of daily sunlight.
But for most S.C. low-income families, the sun’s long arc across the sky is a missed opportunity to use solar power to help decrease their energy costs.
We should strive to remove remaining barriers to low-income families converting Southern sunlight into electricity for their homes.
Under the S.C .Solar Act and a resulting legal agreement, Duke Energy and S.C. Electric & Gas Co. are required this year to develop a solar program aimed at helping low-income consumers. We urge the utilities to make it robust and meaningful. To be successful, it must put solar power within reach of all families.
More than a dozen organizations across the South recently released a report that shows how community solar programs, low-cost financing options and smart program design can help low- to moderate-income families better control energy costs, and stretch tight budgets.
That’s crucial because struggling families can spend up to 20 percent of their paychecks on power bills, which can rattle budgets already squeezed to the last dollar. In too many cases, families must choose between electricity and groceries.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
Companies such as PosiGen in Louisiana provide low-income families with solar installations they can finance without money up front. In Virginia, an apartment-building owner uses a solar array to smooth out seasonal energy demands, so it can charge more budget-friendly flat rates for rent and electricity. And in Washington, renters in solar-equipped low-income housing have seen up to two-thirds of their power bills covered by the sun.
Solar power insulates these families from the seasonal swings in power costs, helps them keep the lights on and lets them put the savings into necessities such as school supplies, reliable transportation and better child care.
As we face the long days of summer, it is time for S.C. utilities to follow these examples and put solar in reach of more people, putting that Southern sun to work for South Carolinians who need it most.
Program director, S.C. Association for Community Economic Development