Opinion Extra

If we use solar, why should utilities get to charge us for electricity we don’t use?

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Ocean Springs resident Matt Campbell explains how a bi-directional meter measures electricity flow in two directions. Campbell and his wife, Lea, are able to sell the excess energy that their solar panels produce to their utility company.
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Ocean Springs resident Matt Campbell explains how a bi-directional meter measures electricity flow in two directions. Campbell and his wife, Lea, are able to sell the excess energy that their solar panels produce to their utility company.

I wrote an email Wednesday with the subject line, “a dark day for solar in SC.” That is the most concise way to express my disappointment and frustration around Tuesday’s actions in the S.C. House.

Tuesday, the House voted to undo the pro-solar, pro-customer victory from the previous week involving H.4421, which would have removed arbitrary caps on the way South Carolinians are reimbursed for generating solar energy. By ensuring that customers continue to receive fair credit for the energy they generate through solar panels, H.4421 would have saved more than 3,000 solar jobs and ensured that South Carolina’s solar industry will continue to thrive.

But with its actions on Tuesday, the House refused to move H.4421 forward. Opponents used a desperate, last-minute tactic to change the number of votes required to pass the bill.

In short, a minority of representatives put 3,000 solar jobs at risk.

It’s clear utilities will stop at nothing to continue to keep making profits. And when customers install solar panels, utilities lose revenue.

TynanJohnzV
John Tynan

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The on-again, off-again love affair between the SC House and SCE&G is back on again

Was your SC House member inconsistent on the three solar v SCE&G votes?

SC House to SCE&G: We’re just not that into you anymore

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That’s right. This is about competition and the market at work. All of us are subject to these realities. But it seems the utilities and their supporters in the House believe utilities should be exempt from this basic tenet of economics.

As an example, if I buy a more fuel-efficient car, I buy less gas than I did before. I pay less at the pump. The gas station earns less profit. It’s a fair market transaction. The gas station doesn’t get reimbursed for the gas I’m not buying. No reasonable person would agree to do that.

The utilities expect to get reimbursed for the electricity they’re not selling if I use solar energy.

But the utilities expect to get reimbursed for the electricity they’re not selling if I use solar energy — or if I offset my energy use by using more energy-efficient light bulbs. That’s what this whole debate is about.

I, along with a majority of South Carolinians and members of the House, don’t agree that utilities should be rewarded in this way. In fact, a strong bipartisan majority of clean-energy champions supported H.4421. It just did not reach the new vote threshold.

H.4421 recognized the irrationality of the utility argument and supported customer choice and the free market. It would have prevented non-solar customers from having to repay utilities for lost profits because other customers installed solar. This is what is fair.

South Carolina has granted the utilities a monopoly for decades. Now that affordable competition is here in the form of solar, we should embrace it.

South Carolina needs a policy that grows solar jobs, removes the cap on solar and ensures that the utilities have to bear the cost of lost revenue. Allowing utilities to continue charging all of us for the profits they lose to solar is simply the wrong way to go, especially in a year when we’re all reeling from the V.C. Summer nuclear plant failure and its associated charges on our bills.

South Carolina has granted the utilities a monopoly for decades. Now that affordable competition is here in the form of solar, we should embrace it. And we should make sure that the utilities are forced to participate in the marketplace by innovating and competing, not just charging everyone else for their lost profits.

I, along with 61 Democrats and Republicans in the House, support solar jobs and support making utilities compete in the marketplace. I will not give up on the citizens and legislators who support H.4421. We will continue to fight.

While Tuesday was a dark day for solar in South Carolina, today I’m looking for the silver lining. I’m grateful for the foresight of many of our key leaders in the Legislature who supported solar jobs and lower rates for customers. I’m grateful for their dedication to protecting our future by protecting our rights and our energy choices, and I remain optimistic that we will ultimately come to an agreement that will protect South Carolina’s ratepayers and strengthen our clean-energy future.

Mr. Tynan is executive director of the Conservation Voters of South Carolina; contact him at john@cvsc.org.

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