News items re: Solar and/or Southern Current – Default Category

Saving Sunshine: Will the sun keep shining on the SC solar industry?

Upstate Business Journal
By Evan Peter Smith -January 16, 2020

Ike Maddox prefers sunny days.

He’s hardly alone in that opinion, for who wouldn’t choose a bright day of sunshine over a gloomy day of rain clouds? But Maddox, who owns Ike’s Carpet and Upholstery Cleaning on Poinsett Highway in Greenville, has an added layer of incentive when it comes to the weather.

Namely, his electric bill.

“As long as the sun comes out 20 days or so a month, I’m home free,” Maddox said. “So to be honest, I don’t even worry about my electric bill anymore. I’m already saving a bunch of money.”

A little more than a year ago, Maddox had a solar panel system installed on the roof of his business. He needed a new roof anyway, and with Duke Energy offering rebates for those looking to install solar, he decided to opt in.

“It’s a lot of money up front to pay for it,” Maddox said, “but you start realizing immediate savings.”

In Maddox’s case, his power bill went down from an average of about $600 a month before he had solar installed, to around $50 dollars now. With the rebate he got from Duke in addition to tax incentives, the overall cost of his system will be practically paid for after six years.

This Google tool allows you to enter the address of your home or business to see how much solar would save you.
Things have changed, however, in the short time since Maddox had his solar system installed. For one, Duke Energy has ended its rebate program. The program was specifically aimed at jumpstarting the solar industry in South Carolina, according to Jason Martin, Duke’s distributed energy technology director. After three years and more than $60 million in rebates handed out, the number of solar customers connected to Duke’s power grid has gone up from about 100 individuals and businesses in 2014 to more than 7,600 today. Laurens Electric Cooperative has also seen significant growth in solar customers.

But industry analysts say that quick growth may soon slow down. The combined impact of the trade war with China and a recent decision not to extend a federal tax credit for solar-energy projects has had a chilling effect, says Steffanie Dohn, director of government relations with Southern Current, a major developer of large-scale solar farms.

“It’s disappointing, and it’s definitely going to hinder the solar industry,” Dohn said, referring to the decision not to extend the federal solar-investment tax credit.

That tax credit, established in 2006, offers individuals or businesses money back on the overall cost of a solar system. The tax credit was 30% as of 2019, meaning if you had installed an $18,000 solar panel system on your home — the average price for a residential system — you would save about $5,400. But that tax credit dropped to 26% as of Jan. 1. It will drop again next year to 22%. After 2021, it will drop down to zero for individuals, while commercial installations can still receive a 10% tax credit.

Dohn called the decision not to extent the tax credit a “head scratcher,” especially given the federal subsidies given to fossil fuel sources. Since 1950, oil and gas have received almost 60% of federal spending to support energy, or about $490 billion, while just 11% of federal spending, or $90 billion, has gone to support wind, solar and geothermal energy combined, according to a report from the Nuclear Energy Institute.

Dohn said the solar tax credit specifically has been a major boon economically.

“It’s probably the most successful policy for growth for renewable energy ever,” she said.

Since the tax credit was enacted in 2006, the industry as a whole has grown by more than 10,000%, according to a report from the Solar Energy Industries Association. The tax credit has directly helped create more than 200,000 jobs, the report notes, and has generated more than $140 billion in private investment.

Had the tax credit been extended through 2030, the report estimates the U.S. solar industry would have added an additional 113,000 jobs and an additional $87 billion in investment. The industry will still continue to grow without the tax credit’s extension, but that growth will be at a much slower pace, with the number of solar jobs expected to reach about 440,000 by 2030, compared with an estimated 553,000 jobs had the tax credit been allowed to continue.

“South Carolina is primed for solar, and it provides a real viable option for the state to transition to more sustainable, renewable, low carbon sources of energy,” said Weston Dripps, executive director of Furman’s Shi Center for Sustainable Communities. Photo by Irina Rice
But as Dohn and other industry leaders are quick to point out, the consequences of the tax credit not being extended will be felt unequally across the country.

“When it comes down to it,” Dohn said, “this is going to hurt red states like South Carolina a lot more.”

That’s because in recent years, blue states like California, Colorado, Maine, Nevada, New Mexico, New York and Washington have passed aggressive climate bills aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the result being an increased investment in renewable energy infrastructure — with solar at the forefront.

But red states, which have historically resisted new climate policies, are only just now beginning to see the economic advantages of solar investment.

“I do think South Carolina was sort of late to the party,” said Tyson Grinstead, director of public policy for Sunrun, a residential solar panel installer that operates in dozens of states, including South Carolina and the Upstate specifically.

Grinstead said that South Carolina, like other red states, is still in the relatively early stages of establishing widespread solar infrastructure. This means that on top of trying to catch up to blue states, which opted in earlier, South Carolina will also be paying higher costs in the coming years, given that blue states were able to build the majority of their solar infrastructure with the tax credit cushioning their overall costs.

The trade war added “further uncertainty,” Grinstead said, after the Trump administration tacked a 30% tariff on Chinese-made solar panels, which account for more than 80 percent of solar panels used in the United States. Chinese panels also amount to the only practical option for large-scale solar farms to purchase in the amount South Carolina needs to build up its infrastructure.

The trade war led to a quiet rift between the Trump administration and that of Gov. Henry McMaster, who made multiple trips to Washington, D.C., in a failed attempt to convince the administration not to impose the tariffs.

McMaster’s trips to Washington came right on the heels of his signing the unanimously passed South Carolina Energy Freedom Act, a bill that opened up the state to more solar power by increasing competition. The bill also got rid of the net metering cap on solar power, meaning those with solar panel systems can sell any unused energy collected back to the grid at market price without limits.

Still, that may not be enough to offset the impact of decisions made at the federal level.

“We’re going to see a dip,” Grinstead said of the state’s solar industry. “It’s not anything related to state lawmakers — in fact, it’s the opposite. But the federal side is worsening things.”

For now, with the tax credit still at 26%, solar providers have at the very least the benefit of being able to sell customers on that deadline.

It’s a sales pitch Ike Maddox has been making since he had his own panels installed.

“If your solar system itself is going to pay for itself in a short period of time anyway, and they’re going to pay you some money to do it, why not?” Maddox said. “Otherwise you’re just throwing money away.”

Southern Current donates solar to Sapelo Island Library

The Gullah-Geechee community of Sapelo Island celebrated a new solar installation on their local library this Saturday. Over a year in the making, the project began when PSC Commissioner Vice Chairman Tim Echols challenged the Georgia Large Scale Solar Association to lead a plan that would add solar power to the library. Association Chairman Ryan Sanders and other officials jumped to work to make this solar pavilion a reality and partnered with our team at Southern Current DG. 

Southern Current donated the solar modules, electrical equipment, and labor of three installers who hand dug a trench and installed the system. To complete the project, our team worked alongside Yellawood, who donated the material for the pavilion, and EDF Renewables, who donated the construction costs. The solar system is 4.8 kW and will be used to offset the energy usage of the library for the next 30 years. 

This project is evidence of the area’s dedication to renewable energy and the island’s sustainability. 

“We are excited for what this project means for the local community,” says Jason Epstein, CEO of Southern Current, “It’s truly impressive to see the forethought that was put into the commitment to solar as a viable option for the future.” 

The Hog Hammock Public Library is considered the heart of Sapelo Island and serves its residents of around 40 residents and visitors. Hog Hammock is one of the last remaining Gullah-Geechee communities whose residents trace their island ancestry back to the plantation of the late 1700’s. Sapelo Island can only be accessed via ferry. The Southern Current installers got their Georgia fishing licenses before going out for the weekend to complete the work so they could get the true island experience. 

This Saturday, August 24, the project was unveiled with a ribbon cutting. State legislators, Rep. Al Williams, Rep. Jeff Jones and Rep. Carl Wayne Gilliard were scheduled to be present at the unveiling. 

Southern Current Helps Launch Renewable Energy Chapter: Women of Renewable Industries and Sustainable Energy Coming to Charleston

CHARLESTON, SC — Southern Current, the Lowcountry’s leading solar energy company, is helping launch a Charleston chapter of Women in Renewable Industries and Sustainable Energy (WRISE).

WRISE promotes the education, professional development, and advancement of women to achieve “a strong diversified workforce and support a robust renewable energy economy.” Through their core principles of building community, promoting education, and cultivating leadership, WRISE advances women’s professional interests in the renewables industry.

WRISE and Southern Current will host the coastal SC chapter’s next meeting on June 5 from noon to 1:30 p.m. at One80 Place, 35 Walnut Street. The meeting will feature a conversation with Elizabeth Colbert-Busch.

Steffanie Dohn, Director of Government Relations for Southern Current, notes: “As a dynamic, growing industry, renewable energy holds great promise for women working from the ground floor to the C-suite. Our goal is to create a network of talent and insights to help women achieve success in this field.”

Southern Current was a member of statewide coalitions that recently advocated for The Energy Freedom Act, which ensures competitive pricing and a way forward for renewable energy in residences, commercial properties and large-scale applications.

Founded in 2005 as Women of Wind Energy (WoWE), they rebranded in May 2017 to the WRISE title. WRISE’s dedicated staff and volunteers are “committed to building a diverse workforce for the success of renewable energy in the US and around the world.” WRISE’s local chapters get their communities involved in many ways such as “hosting a variety of educational and networking events including field trips and outreach to schools.” The organization has grown to include 30 chapters across the United States and Canada, with Charleston being the newest addition to their growing contingent of branches. The group’s headquarters are based in Brooklyn, New York, but their footprint spreads across North America.



SC’s new Energy Freedom Act opens up energy-production markets to more competition

This past Tuesday, in a State House rotunda packed with media, renewable-energy activists and solar-industry entrepreneurs, I stood alongside Gov. Henry McMaster as he signed into law a bill titled the “Energy Freedom Act,” which I co-authored with Rep. Peter McCoy, R-Charleston.

It has been widely reported that this new law is about promoting clean energy, and that’s partially true.

But it’s really about something more fundamental: it is a first step away from the energy-production monopolies that have saddled South Carolinians with some of the highest electricity bills in the nation, and toward real competition that will provide downward pressure on the cost of producing energy.

Over 60 years ago, the South Carolina General Assembly began passing laws that provided mega-utilities with service-area monopolies and guaranteed them a generous return on their invested capital. That made sense then, given the high fixed costs of building plants and power grids and the difficulty the South had at the time in attracting investment capital.

That same model is still in place today, with Santee Cooper, Duke Energy and Dominion Energy (formerly SCE&G) holding the monopolies.

But as the nuclear-facility debacle in Fairfield County illustrated, with $9 billion having been spent by Santee Cooper and SCE&G (and to be paid for by their customers!) on a now-abandoned project, there are dangers inherent in this model.

Mega-utilities with monopolies will inevitably pursue expensive projects because the return they get is directly related to what they spend. There is little incentive for them to embrace cutting-edge technologies in order to lower energy-production costs.

As a result we have not fully benefited from the explosion in communications technology which, in other parts of our country, has revolutionized every aspect of the electricity-supply chain — technology that makes it much easier to communicate, coordinate, and automate grid interactions and that facilitates access to new market participants naturally incentivized to innovate.

The Energy Freedom Act opens up the grid to this new technology and these new participants. Among other things, like eliminating the net-metering cap for rooftop solar, it says if an independent power producer demonstrates the ability to generate electricity more cheaply than a mega-utility, then it must be allowed to sell that power to the grid, with savings being passed along to consumers.

The objective here is for consumers to pay rates that are a function of what competition in the energy-production market dictates, as opposed to simply paying a mega-utility a guaranteed rate of return on its invested capital. And also to remove barriers to market-driven innovations, for no one knows what else markets may come up with when the grid is open to all.

This latter point was made in a recent piece published in Utility Drive: “As thousands of new 5G cell towers are installed across the country over the next few years and ubiquitous sensors allow for more sophisticated management of electric load and accommodation of innovation, the ‘Internet of Things’ has the power to revolutionize the electric industry … The electric-utility industry has the potential to deliver innovations in service that have heretofore been unimaginable.”

The Energy Freedom Act will help clear the way for these innovations, but considerable work remains to be done, for the old way of doing business and those who benefit from it never yield to any change without a fight.

In particular, careful attention must be paid to the actions of the Public Service Commission, which is charged with implementing the new law. Still, this was a win for South Carolinians and a good first step.


Tom Davis is a State Senator representing portions of Beaufort and Jasper counties.

The Energy Freedom Act Passed! What does this mean for you?

This month, the South Carolina General Assembly unanimously voted in favor of the Energy Freedom Act. Last week, Governor McMaster signed the bill into law. This is very exciting news for the solar industry! This law allows for the continuation of fair policy and for people to have the solar that they produce whether they use it in their home or export it to the grid. This means that solar will be priced fairly for ALL, not just the consumer.


So how does it impact our solar customers?


For existing clients, it solidifies the timeline for the expiration of net metering as a rate schedule for those who have already committed to solar through at least 2025.

For new clients, it allows them to participate in the existing net metering policies that make solar fair and attractive to residential and business clients across South Carolina.

This also means important news for solar industry jobs. Without the passage of the Energy Freedom Act and the change to the return on investment for solar, all the companies that have been investing in building solar companies in South Carolina would have faced a dramatically new market. A market in which power generated from solar was not treated fairly and, therefore, was a more challenging proposition to residential clients. Many people who are making their career in solar in a variety of skill sets may have lost their jobs.


What was it NOT going to do?


As a result of this policy, the price of solar was not going to change dramatically and solar would not have become more expensive, but the homeowner’s return on investment would have been negative. Without the Energy Freedom Act, it would have taken many more years for solar owners to recoup their investment in clean energy, even though the cost of the installation would have been the same.

In some other parts of the country, the “value of solar” is actually considered to be higher. In these other areas, any electricity exported to the grid can potentially receive a premium because some of those utilities view solar as an asset on their gird. This means less service upgrades and less facility upgrades. It also means that there is no need to build out sub-stations or to produce as much power during peak hours because the utility companies know there is a base supply of solar in the market that can lower the demand they would otherwise have to produce.


What the Energy Freedom Act has done is allow clients of Southern Current DG and the utilities to purchase solar with the same fair and reasonable rate structures you already have, letting more people enjoy the benefits of solar.

In the long term, it offers more people the ability to advocate for solar from the position of owners of systems. The next time there is a legislative or policy issue the #SoCuSolarArmy can be a larger and more diverse voice for solar advocacy!

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