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SC Energy Freedom Act offers lower costs, cleaner energy, more jobs and local investment

The Energy Freedom Act lifts the solar net metering caps so that all customers have the choice to offset their energy use with solar.
The Energy Freedom Act lifts the solar net metering caps so that all customers have the choice to offset their energy use with solar. Staff file

When the South Carolina House and Senate convened on Jan. 8, the clock began ticking on the legislature’s opportunity to finally take meaningful action to secure South Carolina’s clean energy future. That’s why we introduced bills in the State House and Senate in the first two weeks of legislative session.

Now, just over 50 days into 2019, the Energy Freedom Act (H.3659) passed out of the South Carolina State House unanimously. The 110-0 House vote shows strong bipartisan support for ensuring a better future for our state’s ratepayers. Now the bill heads to the State Senate — where we hope to see the same bipartisan support and decisive action.

The actions the House took and we are calling on the Senate to take through this bill are not just about clean energy. They are really about that old fashioned, conservative goal of allowing more competition in the economy. Competition drives down energy costs, which lowers bills for ratepayers. At the same time, competition creates jobs and drives millions in private investment in our state.

From past experience, we know that the time constraints of a five-month session demand quick action; we cannot sit idly by as the clock runs out. That’s why we’re working diligently to pass the Energy Freedom Act by April 10 — the 100 day mark of 2019. With passage through the House around day 50, we’re half way there. But we know that competing priorities and other issues can quickly derail momentum. That’s why it is critical that we continue to raise the urgency to act on energy competition and keep this important issue in front of our fellow lawmakers.

But with energy competition it isn’t just the legislative clock we’re racing against — there are thousands of clean energy jobs and millions in private investments on the line.

Billions of dollars for large scale solar projects are ready to be invested, but the industry needs certainty to bring these projects to fruition. Solar net metering programs – which allow rooftop solar customers to be fairly compensated for the energy they generate — will begin expiring in mid-March or sooner. These time constraints make quick action even more critical.

The unanimous passage of H.3659 in the House happened because of compromise from solar industry groups, big utilities, and conservation advocacy organizations who worked together to create legislation that opens our markets to more competition and lower energy bills. Their efforts address short-term issues in the solar industry but also outline a long-term path for success.

Here are some key considerations for this legislation:

The amount of your monthly power bills is at stake. Everyone talks about the statistics showing that South Carolinians pay the highest energy bills in the country. It’s time to do more than talk about it. It’s time to take action. H.3659 lifts the solar net metering caps so that all customers have the choice to offset their energy use with solar.

The jobs of more than 3,000 South Carolinians are at stake. The Energy Freedom Act will preserve and expand the solar industry in our state, which in turn preserves the stability of the existing 3,000 jobs and expands the job market as the industry grows.

A significant shot in the arm for South Carolina’s economy is at stake. Approximately $843 million in private funds has already been invested in large-scale solar projects across South Carolina, but more than a billion dollars of investment in local communities has been unnecessarily delayed due to utility non-compliance with existing South Carolina policies. This bill ensures a number of these projects can connect to the grid, spurring local investment and generating low-cost energy for all.

Tax revenue for local communities, to the tune of approximately $100 million, is at stake. When solar projects are constructed in places like Darlington and Aiken (where a significant number of projects are in the works), the tax benefits of those projects fund schools, emergency services, and other local government needs. The Energy Freedom Act ensures that a number of these projects – and their local tax revenue — come to fruition.

That’s why we considered this a critical priority and hit the ground running from the first week of session.

We are committed to pursuing these policy initiatives on behalf of our constituents and every South Carolina resident. The Energy Freedom Act will allow increased competition in the residential, commercial, industrial, and utility scales within the energy sector. The competition these policies create will ultimately lower power bills, save and create jobs, and boost our state and local economies.

But for this bill to succeed, we will need support from every corner of the state. The House did this with its unanimous support, and now it’s up the South Carolina Senate to forge a path that leads our state to the best energy future.

We look forward to working with our colleagues in the Senate to see that this happens, but need you to reach out and let them know that you, their voters, want energy competition and support H.3659, the Energy Freedom Act. So, please, take action today to elevate this important issue for your State Senator.

Tom Davis represents portions of Beaufort and Jasper counties in the South Carolina Senate; Peter McCoy represents portions of Charleston County in the South Carolina House.