The underlying message in a long-awaited study on the future of solar energy in South Carolina shouldn’t surprise anyone: As a state with ample sunshine, South Carolina should prepare for the rise of solar power.
While that might seem obvious, solar power, despite the abundance of sunshine, has failed to thrive in the Palmetto State. There are a variety of reasons for that, but resistance by the Legislature and a powerful utilities lobby to promoting solar energy ranks as the chief obstacle.
The Energy Advisory Council (EAC) study, written by a committee appointed by the Legislature, makes no specific recommendations on how to accommodate more solar energy generation. And it doesn’t suggest how to resolve the disputes between solar advocates and utilities.
But it does note a rise in popularity of solar energy not only nationwide but also in South Carolina, and says that the state should brace for changes in the way energy is delivered to customers in the years ahead. Unfortunately, right now South Carolina is one of the least solar-friendly states in the nation.
An annual report by Freeing the Grid, which assesses solar energy policies in different states, rated South Carolina dead last in the ease with which people can install solar power panels on their homes or businesses.
Many states offer generous tax incentives to homeowners or businesses for installing solar panels. Many states require utilities to get at least a portion of their power from solar and to buy excess power from those with solar panels that generate more power than they can use. South Carolina does none of those things.
In other parts of the country, one of the most popular ways for homeowners to install solar panels is to lease them from solar companies. The companies install the panels and charge customers each month, which often results in lower utility costs for the customer.
But in South Carolina, any solar company, whatever its size, must be registered as a state utility, which is both costly and cumbersome. As a result, only a few hundred homeowners in the state have solar panels on their roofs.
Utilities argue that, with slightly more than half the state’s power generated by nuclear plants, power costs already are low. But a recent study found that utility costs for homeowners were lower in several states that actively promote solar power.
Cost isn’t the only issue. Many South Carolinians would like the option of using a power source that is constantly renewable and doesn’t produce toxic air pollution or create deadly waste.
The EAC study doesn’t provide a blueprint for how to create that option. But it does predict that more and more customers will be clamoring for solar power in the near future as technology improves and the cost of producing and installing solar panels falls.
We hope that resistant state legislators and the utility companies finally will see the need to make solar power a significant part of the state’s energy mix.