Gov. Nikki Haley held a ceremonial signing Wednesday for a new law that loosens restrictions on solar energy in South Carolina.
The Distributed Energy Resource Program Act will let third-party companies lease solar panels to customers without being regulated as a public utility. The leasing practice is meant to help homeowners afford the relatively expensive panels.
While the governor officially signed the bill into law back in June, Wednesday’s ceremony at a Columbia outfitter was a celebration for conservation and renewable energy groups. Those groups have long criticized state laws they said made South Carolina one of the most difficult states for installing solar panels on homes and businesses.
Haley said South Carolina trails neighboring states for solar energy usage. “(Georgia and North Carolina) have been doing pretty well when it comes to solar energy and they don’t have any more sun than we do. The goal is to never be satsified, but what are we doing to move the ball forward?”
Alternative energy groups have spent two years pushing for the incentives and that they say will expand the use of solar energy in South Carolina. But their efforts previously hit a snag when power companies disagreed with them on the issue of “net metering.” In essence, net metering allows customers who use solar panels to then return some of their excess energy to the grid. In theory, those customers would then be able to claim credits in other months when they rely on the grid for power.
Even now, solar companies, power utilities, and regulators still need to hash out what kinds of credit or bill reductions customers can get for generating their own power. The Public Service Commission will eventually set the rates this fall.
“There’s a lot of pent-up demand for solar here,” Coastal Conservation League energy director Hamilton Davis said. “You’ve seen that demand being met in North Carolina and Georgia… and this is an opportunity for South Carolina to catch up and lead, in a lot of ways.”
It did not appear the law would pass as recently as four months ago, but the bill’s sponsor State Sen. Greg Gregory, R-Lancaster, said all sides were able to negotiate a compromise in May to make the law a reality. It passed unanimously in both the House and Senate.
“This bill provides another avenue for South Carolinians to acquire electricity,” he said during Wednesday’s ceremony. “One that’s clean, renewable, and affordable and allows a greater degree of energy independence for homeowners, business owners, and others.”