Dominion Energy South Carolina has proposed a series of fees and rate changes that, if approved, would add hundreds of dollars to solar homeowners’ annual bills and could send shockwaves through the state’s residential solar industry.
The proposed charges include raising solar customers’ basic service charge to $19.50 a month. Non-solar customers pay $9 a month. The utility has also proposed a “solar subscription fee,” which would add a monthly cost of $5.40/kW. The charge would cost the average solar customer, assuming an 8 kW installation $43.20 per month.
Combined, the two charges could end up costing the average solar homeowner more than $750 annually.
Outside of the new charges, Dominion is also looking to slash the solar export credit that its customers can receive. The credit currently compensates customers at a dollar-for-dollar rate. The proposed fees face hearings before state utility regulators.
Stifling the solar market
Kate Lee Mixson, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), condemned the proposed changes, calling it an attempt to “keep customers tethered to Dominion’s rising rates and to take away an affordable option for customers to better control their power bills and their family budgets.”
The SELC also called out the proposed changes for ignoring the intent of the 2019 Energy Freedom Act in South Carolina, an opinion shared by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).
The act requires utilities to file net metering successor plans that avoid cost shifts and provide long-term stability for solar customers. Both SECL and SEIA argue that by adding grid access charges, a monthly subscription cost and a low export rate for net metering customers, Dominion is inflating solar costs and discouraging investment in the resource.
In a statement, Sean Gallagher, vice president of state affairs at SEIA, said:
“Dominion’s filing would wipe out the rooftop solar market in its South Carolina service territory, imposing egregious charges on solar customers.” Gallagher said the Energy Freedom Act was enacted to protect customer choice and add stability for the growing rooftop solar market. Dominion’s actions are “punitive and would undermine the intent of the law if approved by the Commission,” Gallagher said. “The proposed charges are so high that they would stifle the local solar market.”
Jobs in limbo?
SEIA said the proposed changes would affect more than just homeowners. The decreased viability of residential solar could mean the loss of hundreds of jobs for installers across the state. As of 2019, there were roughly 4,000 solar industry jobs in South Carolina.
The SELC alleges that the new fees and discounted compensation rates are a way for Dominion to claw back some funds from the utility’s purchase of South Carolina Energy & Gas last year. That utility was known as SCANA when it was involved in a scrapped nuclear power plant construction venture that left the utility financially vulnerable.
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Going off grid and powering your home with solar, batteries, inverters and a generator as back up may be the way future solar will need to be done. Installing a transfer switch to switch from solar power to grid power or not connecting your solar to the grid at all may cost less if this kind of “Power Grab” prevails. On grid solar power, with net metering, is the least expensive, but, if you have already added “battery back up”, you may find that just charging your batteries and powering your home will cost less if you do not connect to the grid. In the future you may have to generate 2 kWhs to get back 1 when putting power onto the grid to cover your share of the infrastructure, but utilities will have to stop limiting your solar installation from 115% of your usage and allow up to 200% of your usage for that reduced compensation.
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