In the closing minutes of this year’s session, I was relieved to see the General Assembly repeal the Base Load Review Act and lower rates for thousands of South Carolinians. It took longer than any of us wanted; but we got that decision right.
But there is much work still to be done when it comes to creating a sound and balanced energy policy for our state.
In all of the noise about the abandoned nuclear-reactor project, you may have missed that the General Assembly failed to approve another important energy measure — a one-year budget proviso I had sponsored to raise the cap on the number of people who can participate in a program that requires electric utilities to purchase the power they generate through rooftop solar panels. When the budget came back from negotiations for a last vote, that proviso had been stripped out.
In contrast to the Base Load Review Act vote, this unfortunate turn of events is a real blow to all the recent progress we had made to increase energy choices and ultimately lower power bills. The proviso was a last-ditch effort after permanent legislation to provide more choices and raise the solar cap failed to pass third-reading in the House earlier this session.
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It appears that South Carolina has historically given utilities a blank check from consumers, without any competition and without proper oversight. This discovery came to the forefront last summer and during the past year when legislative hearings uncovered more and more failures in the way our state handles energy policies. While our actions with the Base Load Review Act represented a small step forward in reducing the hold utilities have on our state, we took a giant step backward by not extending the solar cap for our citizens.
Utility-friendly legislators opposed increasing the solar cap at every turn this year because they know that solar net-metering is the first serious threat to the power companies’ 100-year grip on our state. I and other reform-minded members in the House and Senate believe South Carolinians can provide for themselves and for their neighbors with solar, and that ability should not be artificially capped.
Duke Energy is poised to reach its solar cap in the coming days. Once that happens, there will be no fair deal in place for customers who want to start powering their own homes. Sadly, the Upstate, where I was born and raised, is likely to lose jobs to Illinois, Florida and other emerging solar markets.
South Carolina can, and should, do better.
It is my hope that stakeholders will work together with my reform-minded colleagues in the coming weeks and months to raise the solar cap before we have another energy crisis. One that stands to cost thousands in our state jobs — and energy choices. It is unacceptable that South Carolina would take away these viable options and cap solar-related jobs by creating this totally avoidable problem. South Carolina must have an energy policy that grows jobs, not one that sends them to other states.
Now is the time to make real progress on energy reform.
Mr. Ballentine represents Richland and Lexington counties; contact him at (803) 734-2969 or firstname.lastname@example.org.