South Carolinians are eagerly filling up solar incentive programs

Guest Blog | September 23, 2016 | Energy Policy, Solar

The sun is rising on the Palmetto State, as scores of customers are rushing to take advantage of the 2014 solar-enabling legislation, Act 236. Recently, Duke Energy announced that its South Carolina customers have received $5 million in solar rebates since the start of its incentive program roughly a year ago. This is great news and should put to bed any lingering doubt as to whether consumer demand would follow good solar policy in the state.

Act 236 allows the utilities to recover the costs of rebate programs for customer-sited solar systems with a total generating capacity of up to 1% of the five-year average peak electric demand forecast for the state. It also provides for larger-scale solar projects up to an additional 1% of total peak demand. To make sure residential customers get a bite at the apple, Act 236 reserves 25% of the allotted demand-side solar capacity for systems that are smaller than 20 kW, which is more than twice the size of an average residential rooftop array. While commercial systems are larger in scale and will make up more total capacity, residential installations still outnumber them across both investor-owned utilities’ territories. Duke reports that 750 of its residential customers and 35 of its commercial customers in South Carolina have signed up for its solar rebate program.

Following the passage of Act 236, the state’s two investor-owned utilities, SCE&G and Duke, rolled out incentive programs for solar customers and guaranteed net energy metering service that pays them the full electric retail rate for the energy they generate, up until 2021.

While Duke Energy is the largest investor-owned utility in South Carolina (and the largest in the country if you include their operations in other states), the high demand for solar is certainly not isolated to Duke’s service territories. Before 2016 was halfway over, South Carolina Electric & Gas’s residential customers actually became the first group in the state to snap up their entire allocation of solar incentives under the utilities’ current offerings. Interestingly, residential customers moved early in SCE&G’s territory relative to Duke’s residential customers, but Duke Energy’s commercial customers have been relatively faster at taking advantage of the allotment of commercial customer rebates.

Based on the program application rates we’ve seen so far, it’s possible that all of the rebates could be snagged by the end of the year. So if you’re interested in installing a solar system in South Carolina, now’s the time to do it!

Solar installers are also benefiting from Act 236, and their success is bringing a needed economic boost to local economies. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, there are currently 54 solar installers in South Carolina employing 1,764 people. The net metering settlement of Act 236 gave both customers and solar companies the certainty they needed to really get the solar market moving. As a result, for example, national solar company Sunrun has added 200 jobs statewide in just the last 18 months or so, and the industry plans to add at least a few hundred more over the next two years.

Solar is also becoming accessible to more people who often face serious challenges in taking advantage of simple rebate programs. Community solar is a rapidly growing approach, which allows utility customers to reserve a part of a larger off-site system that the utility can develop at a lower cost. This opens up solar to people who don’t have a rooftop available that is ideal for solar, and it can also make solar more affordable. Beyond utility programs like community solar, leasing and financing options offered by certain solar installation companies are also helping to expand accessibility.

The electric cooperatives of South Carolina have found that community solar is a good fit for their members, and the first of several projects was completed earlier this month by Laurens Electric Cooperative in Greenville County. For its upcoming community solar program, Duke recently notified the South Carolina Public Service Commission that it was planning to carve out substantial portions for low-income customers. We applaud that decision, and we are eager to see more utilities take action to help low-income communities access solar energy.

Through our participation in forums like the utilities’ quarterly Solar Collaborative meetings and the ongoing State Energy Plan development process, SACE is working to make sure that Act 236 continues to be implemented effectively and that policy is examined and revised as needed to nurture the growth of solar. We look forward to seeing solar continue to grow in South Carolina and across the Southeast.

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