Utilities win in South Carolina solar vote

A bill to overhaul South Carolina’s solar policies has suffered a sudden shift of direction after it was noted that a portion of the bill included a property tax exemption for residential solar power upgrades, and thus it required a 2/3 majority to pass. The vote failed at 61-44, as 82 votes were needed for passage.

The deal-killing text (H. 4421):

Effective for property tax years beginning after 2017, a renewable energy resource property having a nameplate capacity of and generating no greater than twenty kilowatts, as measured in alternating current, is exempt

The electricity utilities of South Carolina expressed strong dismay at the solar power legislation pushing through the political process. The standard, easily disproved, argument that customers with net metered solar impose a charge on those customers who do not have solar was rolled out.

The main feature of H 4421 was to remove a 2% cap on net-metered solar. This threshold is determined according to the “total nameplate generating capacity of net energy metering systems equals two percent of the previous five-year average of the electrical utility’s South Carolina retail peak demand”. This limit is expected to be hit later this year.

The bill would also have required expedited interconnection for PV projects, and also stated that any costs imposed by net metering had to be absorbed by the electric utilities, and weren’t allowed to be charged to the broader customer base. The utilities have suggested net metering will cost them between $1.2 million and $4.4 million.

The utilities did not publicly communicate any of the financial benefits the transmission grid might receive from solar power. California regulators recently projected that distributed energy and efficiency had saved the state’s electric customers $2.6 billion in avoided transmission lines and other grid upgrades. Minnesota additionally suggests solar power is worth about 4¢/kWh in ‘social good’ – saving from healthcare associated with burning fossils fuels, and broader pollution benefits.

Utility statements about the costs and benefits of solar can also use some perspective, given that South Carolina utility SCE&G, recently spent $9 billion on a concrete hole. The concrete hole is currently being billed to taxpayers at a rate of $27 a month. The customers of the utility that own the successfully built concrete hole pay an average of $163/month – possibly the highest absolute average electricity bill in the United States.