By Bill Poovey
Published July 2, 2013
The S.C. Public Service Commission has agreed to review the state’s solar energy policies, including a 100 kilowatt limit on sun power for businesses and other nonresidential customers of electric utilities.
The commission set a Sept. 12 public workshop on the issue.
Hamilton Davis, energy and climate director at the Coastal Conservation League in Charleston, said Monday the league is seeking an increase in the 100 kilowatt limit and in a 0.2% aggregate limit on solar energy as part of a utility’s peak demand.
Furman University is among those seeking to expand its solar generation.
Davis said “Furman has wanted to make a bigger investment” in solar but couldn’t because of the limit.
The PSC agreed in 2009 to review its solar net-metering rules sometime this year. The 100 kilowatt limit for nonresidential customers is lower than North Carolina and other states.
While solar panels are expensive, those systems reduce the cost of using electricity for customers.
Jeff Redderson, Furman's associate vice president for facility and campus services, said Furman has about $750,000 worth of solar equipment — much of it government subsidized — and wants to go beyond the 100 kilowatt limit. He said the university set a goal to be carbon neutral by 2026 and part of that plan “included building a large solar farm.”
Redderson said Furman uses about 30 million kilowatt-hours annually, with peak usage in the 5,500 kilowatt-hour range. Solar is the only alternative energy sources that Furman is currently using, he said.
Davis said state lawmakers prodded by utilities refused this year to support legislation that would have made it easier financially for utility customers to get solar equipment installed.
“That’s been an incredibly effective way to provide access to solar in many states around the country,” he said.
Davis said utilities opposed the legislation, viewing it as “competition for customers.”
The PSC has agreed to allow the Coastal Conservation League to participate as an official party in the solar energy discussion and Davis said he is optimistic that the commissioners and other South Carolina decision-makers are starting to recognize there is growing public support for solar and other alternative energy sources.
“They understand there is a lot of interest across the state in these issues,” he said. “I think there is good reason to expect more.”