Battle brewing over south carolina’s booming solar industry business postandcourier.com gas efficient cars under 10000

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The alternative is sponsored by lawmakers on the Labor Commerce and Industry Committee, including Rep. Bill Sandifer, R-Seneca, and Rep. Mike Forrester, R-Spartanburg. Both of those lawmakers have a long history of working with the power companies, and for years they’ve helped select the state’s utility regulators who are meant to hold the utilities in check.

The solar issue needs to be resolved soon. South Carolina is hurtling toward a limit on solar subsidies that the Legislature set in 2014: Once 2 percent of the state’s electricity is supplied by solar panels on homes and businesses, the power companies will stop crediting new users at the higher rate.

The first utility expected to hit its cap — a Duke Energy subsidiary in the Upstate — is on track to reach that point in the next few months. South Carolina Electric & Gas expects to reach that mark next year. The net-metering law doesn’t apply to state-owned Santee Cooper or the electric cooperatives that buy its power.

The proposal backed by the solar industry would essentially leave the credit structure the way it is now, other than a new $250 connection fee for utilities: Homeowners would get one kilowatt-hour of credit for every kilowatt-hour they produce, a process known as net-metering.

The utilities don’t like that plan. Duke Energy, for instance, says it supported higher credits to get the solar industry off the ground. But the power company, which sells electricity from the Upstate to the Pee Dee, says homeowners shouldn’t be paid more for the power they generate than large-scale solar farms.

"This is not about utilities protecting profits. It’s about having a fair system, paying private solar customers the same, competitive price we pay for other solar energy, instead of above-market rates that result in higher costs for all customers," Duke spokesman Ryan Mosier said. "Having others bankroll the lucrative earnings of the rooftop solar industry is not the answer."

SCE&G, for its part, said it thinks the solar industry-backed plan is unfair to electric ratepayers who don’t have their own panels. It hasn’t taken a position on the alternative plan, saying that lawmakers should follow a process that "would take a look at the needs of all stakeholders and would fairly address cost shifts and the needs of the state."

The Sandifer and Forrester plan suggests that homeowners should only earn the equivalent of the cost that the power companies avoid because of their solar systems. Utilities stand to save money on new power plants and transmission lines, for instance.

Proponents of the "avoided cost" plan say that one-to-one credits force other ratepayers to subsidize the upkeep of the electric grid. Their argument is that solar users still depend on the poles and wires that bring electricity to their homes and the plants that pump it out.

Solar backers say the cost to other ratepayers is exceedingly low. They cite, for instance, a federal Energy Department study that found the impact on electric rates to remain "negligible" as long as solar makes up a fraction of power generation.

"It’s a nascent industry. You’ve got to have consistency to grow it," said James Koehler, vice president of energy markets and policy for Charleston-based Palmetto, a solar installer. "They would kill it off if they did not give us a clear path forward and stay consistent."