A bipartisan group of legislators and clean energy supporters hope a bill opening the state for greater competition in energy suppliers will pass on its third attempt.
The Senate Clean Energy Access Act and the House Energy Freedom Acts are designed to allow companies who provide alternative energy sources to be allowed to operate in areas of the state already serviced by monopoly utilities companies or cooperatives.
“This is not a partisan issue,” said State Rep. Peter McCoy, R-Charleston. Similar bills were introduced in two previous legislative sessions but didn’t pass.
McCoy referenced a 2018 bill which would have lifted the two percent cap for “net metering,” which allowed solar customers to credit the energy their panels created onto their monthly power bills. It initially passed the House before opponents were able to use rarely-used procedural rules to force a two-thirds majority vote, which failed.
“Last year solar came so close,” McCoy added. “Our floor debate was amazing. The votes were there. We had the effort. We had the energy and we had the people on board for alternative energy solutions.”
The efforts are an alliance between free market Republicans and environmentally-minded Democrats who both want to revamp the state’s utility monopoly laws.
“In the legislative process new ideas and new concepts normally take two to three to five years,” said State Sen. John Matthews, D-Orangeburg. “You try and introduce them and find out where your opposition is coming from, find out what you need to make an adjustment and then you come back a second or third time. . . I think this time the public is on our side and I think it’s going to pass.”
Matthews argued the bill is also an effort to educate homeowners who want to lower their bills or reduce their “carbon footprint.”
“What this bill is about is taking down and opening up those monopolies to competition,” sponsor State Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, said. “If an independent power producer can come in and demonstrate that they can generate power more cheaply, they ought to be able to sell that power to the grid and have those savings passed along to the ratepayers.”
South Carolina Solar Business Alliance lobbyist Steffanie Dohn said this recent version of the bill encompasses all advanced energy technologies, whereas last year’s effort focused only on solar. “This legislation will ensure that whatever is coming down the pike, whatever is the lowest cost to build, to generate and to transmit, that will be the energy solution for those ratepayers,” she said.
McCoy says the bill has to be passed quickly because caps on solar energy production take effect in March.
“Our backs are against the wall,” he said. “Right now we’re looking at the caps being met by March. So we have less than 100 days to get this bill passed and get it sent over and have the governor sign it.”