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12.15.2016 Legal News

Solar Energy Continues to Shine in South Carolina

Donald Trump’s election as our next President throws the long-term outlook for President Obama’s Clean Power Plan into disarray.  Nevertheless, South Carolina, a state historically reliant upon coal-fired power plants, continues to explore alternative energy sources for its citizens.  In 2014, the State enacted legislation intended to ease restrictions on energy companies.  For example, the Distributed Energy Resource Program Act allows independent solar companies to lease solar panels to customers without being regulated as a public utility. 

Prior to the Act, solar regulation was largely left in the hands of existing utilities, meaning it was difficult for independent solar companies to compete.   Now, regulatory responsibility has passed to the Office of Regulatory Staff (ORS).  By transitioning oversight to ORS, the legislature hopes to diversify the mix of energy resources, while helping the State catch up with North Carolina and Georgia in efforts to encourage solar power.  In addition to solar implementation, the State’s Definitive Energy Resource (DER) program has identified goals for landfill, wind, and hydroelectric power generation. 

Showing signs of progress, EPA, along with DHEC, the City of Spartanburg and others, hosted the nation’s first Clean Energy Savings for All Summit this past August.  The ceremony marked the kickoff of a solar farm constructed at the Arkwright landfill in Spartanburg, a former Superfund site.  According to EPA, the installation of 12,000 solar panels will bring jobs to the community and a source of clean energy to almost 500 nearby homes.  Similar projects, such as the Colleton Solar Farm, have utilized former farmland and become more prevalent in the State.

As the market expands and the State moves away from coal, it is inevitable that solar companies, electric power utilities, and regulators will encounter some difficulties when trying to establish rates, address demand, and determine bill credits or other offsets.  However, expansion of available resources in South Carolina provides a unique opportunity for industry and manufacturers looking for alternatives to traditional power sources.  It also may create a way to offset rising energy costs.  Although the Obama Administration’s energy legacy is murky, signs indicate South Carolina will continue to explore emerging renewable markets that provide realistic benefits to its growing consumers, including industry and manufacturers. 

Distributed Energy Resource Program Act, S.C. Code Ann. § 58-39-110, et seq.