South Carolina moves towards net metering

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In early December regulators in South Carolina received an agreement under which private utilities and utility cooperatives in the state pledged to file to create net metering programs for small residential and commercial solar PV systems.

South Carolina’s Public Service Commission must still approve these programs. Under the agreement full retail net metering will apply to PV systems under 1 MW, with a separate program for plants larger than 1 MW.

Utilities have also agreed not to impose charges on solar customers for a period of six years. Additionally, the document sets out guidelines under which these utilities will create incentive programs for solar.

The agreement is the result of a deal between utilities Duke and South Carolina Electric & Gas Company, several utility cooperatives, and seven solar business, advocacy organizations and environmental groups including Sierra Club and the Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC).

“It’s a strong move for the Southeast,” says Sunrun VP Bryan Miller, who also serves as co-chair of TASC. He notes that of the six states that still do not have mandatory statewide net metering policies, four are located in the U.S. South, including Texas.

This is also part of a string of victories for net metering, which contrasts with the mostly negative media accounts about potential changes to solar policies. TASC counts seven states which strengthened their net metering policies in 2014. These include Vermont, New York and Massachusetts, which raised the caps on the penetration of solar PV allowable on the grid through the program.

TASC also notes that despite attempts by utilities in a number of states including Colorado, Maine, Utah and Nevada, there has been only one major ruling which undermines the returns on PV systems participating in net metering in 2014.

“Utilities continue to overreach in all these debates,” states Miller. “We’ve been at this fight for three years now, and sitting here today we have more states with net metering than we did then.”

For the one setback, TASC is appealing a recent decision by Wisconsin regulators to allow utility We Energies to impose additional fees on PV system owners. Miller is confident of victory.

“It is a preliminary decision, and it will be reversed on appeal,” asserts Miller, who notes that new charges were approved without any record to support the decision. “It’s going to be a very awkward position for the commission to explain why their own expert is wrong.”

A recent proposal by the municipal utility in Phoenix, Arizona represents a similar threat. Rate structure changes and new charges for PV system owners proposed by Salt River Project are expected to be voted on in February 2015, and if passed are likely to crush the solar market in the Phoenix metro area.