South Carolina Senate Passes Energy Freedom Act in Bipartisan Vote

May 10, 2019 by Dan McCue

The South Carolina State Senate Thursday unanimously passed The Energy Freedom Act, a comprehensive solar bill that will lift the state’s 2 percent cap on net metering, among other solar-related actions.

The state House is expected to take up the measure early next week.

The compromise bill comes in the wake of a bitter fight last year in the legislature over the fate of the rooftop solar industry in the state.

It represents an almost unprecedented level of cooperation among lawmakers, advocates for the solar industry, environmentalists and utilities.

“The Energy Freedom Act is a big win for all South Carolina energy consumers,” said Lynn Jurich, CEO and co-founder of Sunrun, a provider of residential solar electricity.

“Policymakers listened to the people and delivered a bipartisan solution that lifts arbitrary caps on local solar energy, grows the economy, and gives more individuals access to homegrown solar a way to safeguard against the highest energy bills in the country,” Jurich said.

The growth of rooftop solar power exploded in South Carolina after the state took steps to promote the industry in 2014. But last year rooftop installations in the northern tier of the state surpassed the 2 percent cap established under the original legislation, and it is expected to do so in the rest of the state this year.

Installers of the solar arrays say the cap has chilled expansion and would slowly kill their industry if it isn’t removed. To prove their point they note South Carolina installed more than 400 megawatts of new solar electric generating capacity in 2017, but saw much slower growth in 2018 with less than 150 megawatts installed.

The bill eliminates a cap on the expansion of rooftop solar in South Carolina until 2021, when the state Public Service Commission would propose how to regulate the solar industry.

As a result, new customers who install solar panels on their homes will get favorable rates for power they produce and sell to utilities through that period.

If enacted without any changes in the state House, this legislation would also require the South Carolina Public Service Commission to initiate a new proceeding to review and approve rates and terms provided to large-scale solar facilities, ensuring contract terms are reasonable for such projects.

It would also allow large energy consumers, such as industrial manufacturers, to negotiate directly with a renewable energy supplier to more easily realize savings from solar; provide for more transparency and competition in long-term utility generation planning; and give the commission the authority to establish a new neighborhood community solar program with the opportunity to expand solar access to low-income customers.

Immediately after the state Senate vote, Abigail Ross Hopper, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, said in a statement “that the bill passed with strong bipartisan support is a testament to the hard work of our many partners and allies in the state, and clean energy champions in the legislature.

“We urge the House to quickly offer final approval of the bill, and for swift action from Governor [Henry] McMaster so clean energy can resume its growth in the Palmetto State,” Hopper said.

Sharon Richardson, executive director of Audubon South Carolina, said in a statement that “the Senate’s passage of the SC Energy Freedom Act marks a great day for our state.

“Representing a pragmatic compromise among a diverse group of interests, this legislation will go a long way to making renewable energy more competitive and cost effective for energy consumers, ratepayers and businesses across our state,” Richardson continued.  “With concurrence in the South Carolina House expected next week, it’s time for South Carolina to claim its rightful place as a renewable leader in the Southeast.”

 

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