Solar power in South Carolina got a big boost this week after most utilities which operate in the state agreed to credit homeowners and businesses for any excess power they generate through solar panels that ends up going back into the grid.
Under the 10-year agreement announced Thursday, Duke Energy, South Carolina Electric & Gas, and other electric cooperatives across South Carolina agreed to give customers a full retail credit for any excess power they generate. For example, a customer whose is able to generate 1 kilowatt-hour of excess power over the course of a month would receive a corresponding credit on their bill at the end of the month.
“This settlement agreement essentially creates an option for customers that we think will be financially attractive, fair, and will support a growing solar market in the state,” said Hamilton Davis, the energy director at Coastal Conservation League who helped negotiate the arrangement.
The new “net metering” rates were required under the Distributed Energy Resource Program Act passed by the legislature and signed by Gov. Nikki Haley this year. The law did not address the specifics of net metering, but instead ordered solar companies, conservation groups, and utilities to come up with an agreement.
The agreement will cover any customers who set up solar equipment on their property by 2021. It must be approved by the Public Service Commission (PSC) in the next few months. The agreement does not cover customers for state-owned power utility Santee-Cooper, which is not regulated by the PSC.
Alternative energy groups have said net metering is critical to growing solar power in South Carolina, which has lagged behind its neighboring states. Davis said the credits can pay back the relatively expensive costs of installing solar panels within 5-10 years depending on the customer. “Those times are coming down as the cost of solar decreases and electricity rates increase,” he told South Carolina Radio Network.
Power utilities had previously held reservations about net metering, noting that solar customers would still need to pay for the costs of operating the grid. But they did not express any negative sentiments when announcing the agreement this week. “We believe this is a positive step for South Carolina and the future of solar energy in our state,” Duke Energy South Carolina President Clark Gillespy said in the statement.