Commentary: The 6 words SC regulators are using to justify killing rooftop solar option

Post and Courier
March 20, 2021

By Peter McCoy

The S.C. Public Service Commission recently wrapped up a weeklong hearing on Dominion Energy’s anti-solar proposal that would dramatically increase charges and reduce energy credits to rooftop solar customers. Solar businesses and conservation organizations argued that the plan would penalize existing solar customers and dissuade others from getting solar — so much so that it would be “industry-killing” for rooftop solar.

As the original sponsor to the Energy Freedom Act of 2019, I invested years of time and energy working with stakeholders to pass legislation to inject competition into the energy marketplace in South Carolina — allowing retail customers to choose solar and allowing large solar farms to compete for electricity generation opportunities. This competition-based model put South Carolina on track to be a leader in energy decision-making, clean-energy growth and pragmatic efforts encouraging renewable energy investments through competition.

The entire reason we included requirements in the Energy Freedom Act for regulators and utilities to consider the benefits of rooftop solar deployment was because we understood that utility monopolies have a profit-driven interest in maintaining market control. We intended our state to provide reasonable opportunities for customers to lower bills and manage electricity consumption through their investment decisions. Dominion’s proposal is anything but reasonable.

I was not surprised to learn of Dominion’s punitive solar proposal and its problematic interpretation of the Energy Freedom Act. But I was concerned to hear about the position taken by the state’s Office of Regulatory Staff, which is responsible for representing the public interest in utility regulation.

Despite its mission to look out for the interest of all customers, and despite the legislative directive to consider the benefits of solar energy, the Office of Regulatory Staff agreed with Dominion that it need not consider solar customers, their concerns and the penalties that impact them, focusing instead on an alleged “cost shift” borne by non-solar customers.

Dominion Energy’s proposal would drastically increase fees for the 11,000 residential rooftop solar customers and would eliminate solar as an affordable option for Dominion’s hundreds of thousands of other customers. Considering the impacts to these customers and to the industry was exactly what we had in mind when drafting the Energy Freedom Act.

The act outlined three core principles for rooftop solar’s future:

  1. “Continue enabling market-driven, private investment in distributed energy resources.”
  2. “Avoid disruption to the growing market for customer-scale distributed energy resources.”
  3. “Eliminate any cost shift or subsidization associated with net metering to the greatest extent practicable.”

Instead of looking at these principles together, Dominion and the Office of Regulatory Staff zeroed in on just six words — “eliminate any cost shift or subsidy” — and ignored the part of the law that says “to the greatest extent practicable,” while also ignoring the viability of the solar industry and disruptions Dominion’s proposal would cause.

It was not the Legislature’s intent for the six words in the cost-shift clause to supplant other sections and be used as a justification for eliminating rooftop solar as a viable option for customers.

The Legislature spent years looking at how energy decisions are made in South Carolina, making improvements to benefit ratepayers. Changes to the Public Service Commission have been made, and clear direction has been given to the Office of Regulatory Staff and other agencies that clean energy and competition should have a place in our energy future.

This case further demonstrates the imperative our Legislature must be constantly vigilant and suggests that its energy policy work may not be complete.

While lawmakers come to terms with that, Dominion customers who share my concerns can sign up to speak at a virtual public hearing at the Public Service Commission on Tuesday. That is the most effective way to ensure the public is heard.

Charleston attorney Peter McCoy is a former U.S. attorney for South Carolina and former chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

Commentary: The 6 words SC regulators are using to justify killing rooftop solar option | Post and Courier | Peter McCoy


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