The solar industry in the U.S. South has developed unevenly. While states like North Carolina and Georgia have become national leaders, others have lagged behind.
And where solar has been deployed, the vast majority has been large utility-scale projects, with distributed generation largely stymied by powerful utility monopolies and a lack of supportive policies.
Yesterday, South Carolina showed a sign of positive momentum to open up its distributed solar market to growth, with the approval of the second reading of a bill to lift net metering caps, expedite interconnection and make other solar and rate reforms in the state’s House of Representatives.
H4421, the Electric Consumer Bill of Rights Act, would lift a current cap under which the aggregate capacity of net metered solar may not exceed 2% of the average peak load for a given utility. If the bill becomes law, utilities will have to file new net metering tariffs for after the 2% is reached, however H4421 spells out that these must conform with the basic principles of retail-rate net metering, and that such rates must be guaranteed for 30 years.
The bill also mandates that utilities must make an interconnection ruling for customers applying to install solar and/or energy storage within 30 days of an application, or that such systems will be considered approved.
Along with these reforms, the bill directs state regulators to begin a process to re-write utility rates to make sure that costs are fairly distributed among customer classes, while ensuring that there are opportunities to deploy solar and/or storage.
Solar advocates applauded the passage. “H. 4421 contains a number of common-sense consumer protections that would expand solar opportunity in South Carolina,” notes Vote Solar Southeast Regional Director, Thad Culley. “This vote takes one important step toward giving more families and businesses a competitive option for lowering their electricity bills and protecting the state’s 3,000 local solar jobs.”
Culley also noted that South Carolinians pay some of the highest utility bills in the nation. At an average of nearly 13 cents per kilowatt-hour in 2017, South Carolina’s rates are definitely high for the South, and customers in the region tend to consume more electricity, due to heavy use of air conditioning in the summer.
The bill must pass a third reading before it proceeds to the South Carolina senate. Given that the bill passed its second reading 64-33, the prospect of a passage in the third reading looks good.