South Carolina net metering cap increase derailed

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If there is one policy mechanism that has been successful for utilities trying to put the brakes on rooftop solar, it is caps on the capacity of such systems that can qualify for net metering. Such caps typically date from a time when the mechanics of integrating distributed solar on the grid were not as well understood, but have remained in many states despite an absence of a current technical rationale.

What they do serve as is an effective brake on distributed solar, as without net metering most behind-the-meter systems simply don’t pencil.

On Tuesday, the conference committee reconciling two different bills for South Carolina’s budget stripped out an amendment which would have raised the caps on net metering from their current 2% of peak demand to 4%, and provided a path for the state’s rooftop solar industry to grow.

The amendment would have also created a new committee staffed with elected officials, industry and advocates and solar companies to advise on ratemaking and policies that affect renewable energy.

This is the second time that a measure to avoid lifting the caps has been sidelined in a legislative process, after lawmakers used a technicality to force a bill to lift the caps to secure a 2/3 majority in April.

South Carolina was already well past the scheduled end of its legislative session, and as such solar advocates will have to wait for next year to fix this issue. For many of the state’s solar companies and workers, that will be too late.

Sunrun estimates that Duke Energy Carolinas will reach its cap on net metered installations “any day now” and that South Carolina Electricity & Gas (SCE&G) will follow by the end of the year. The company also notes that this will effectively cut off a choice in how to secure energy for the state which has the highest monthly electric bills in the nation.

Both Sunrun and Vote Solar expressed concern for how this will affect the state’s solar workforce. “It is deeply disappointing that clean energy progress in South Carolina will be delayed another year, putting at risk 3,000 local jobs in the state’s once-thriving solar industry and limiting South Carolinians only true alternatives to monopoly utilities,” said Vote Solar Regional Director Thad Culley.

Despite this loss, the political landscape may be shifting for solar in South Carolina, given that a number of pro-solar politicians recently won their primaries, putting the state legislature a step away from a potential energy revolution.