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South Carolina Falls Short of Energy Freedom Act Goals

This op-ed originally appeared in greenvilleonline.com on May 15, 2022, authored by CVSC Energy Project Manager Jalen Brooks-Knepfle. 

The Energy Freedom Act was a new start for South Carolina. This popular and bipartisan legislation changed the game for South Carolina ratepayers. It set us on a path towards affordable, emission-free, clean energy, and it protected us from high electricity prices and expensive utility mega-projects.

Thanks to this legislation, South Carolina has seen a lot of progress in the energy space. We no longer allow utilities to build giant, expensive power plants with little oversight, or raise rates on hardworking South Carolinians whenever they please. Instead, we expect utilities to be held accountable to the public. It’s the job of the Public Service Commission (PSC) to ensure this public accountability.

We saw the PSC use these new powers last Year, when they asked Duke Energy and Dominion Energy to re-do their long-term resource plans, holding the utility monopolies to a standard that protects ratepayers, grows affordable clean energy, and improves the quality of life in South Carolina.

However, 2022 has seen a step backwards. The PSC rejected the Smart Saver Program – a compromise agreement struck between Duke Energy, solar companies, and environmental organizations that would have allowed rooftop solar to continue to grow in Duke territory. This program allowed Duke to pay customers to install rooftop solar and enroll in a smart thermostat program, helping the utility better manage the flow of electricity. The Smart Saver program would have allowed interested customers to invest in solar without breaking the bank, while lowering costs and reducing pollution from dirty, expensive power plants for everyone on the grid.

The PSC has now rejected this innovative program not once, but twice. Its first rejection hinged on the idea that the program was too risky for ratepayers, holding that Duke didn’t sufficiently prove the program’s necessity. Duke responded to this concern by offering to place the risk on shareholders rather than the ratepayers. However, in a split vote, the PSC rejected the program a second time, ignoring Duke’s offer.

These rejections are the wrong move for South Carolina ratepayers. Our state has some of the highest electricity bills in the country, and it’s time to make a change. We should embrace compromise, collaboration, and creativity. When solar companies, traditional utilities, and environmental groups all agree on a solution, as they do here, we should take them seriously. This is especially true when it increases consumers’  access to solar and lowers bills for all ratepayers, like the Smart Saver program does. Losing this program is a loss for everyone – solar and non-solar ratepayers alike.

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