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Collaboration carries the day in South Carolina. Will other states follow?

On June 2, Gov. Nikki Haley signed into law S.1189 – officially known as “A Balanced Path for Distributed Energy in South Carolina.”

Outside of South Carolina, you may not have heard much about it. It was a collaborative effort supported by a coalition of organizations that usually make news disagreeing with each other: utilities, co-ops and environmental, consumer and industrial groups.

I’m proud of the work our employees played in this group and the resolve of the coalition. It puts South Carolina on a path to increase renewable technology in the state, strengthen our communities by creating jobs and diversify our energy sources.

Even better, it was done without the gridlock that has become commonplace in other states. South Carolina has been accused of being slow to embrace solar. On the contrary, I prefer to think the state has been very methodical and intentional in embracing solar – so much so, South Carolina may now be the model other states will want to follow.

With unanimous votes in the legislature, it’s clear collaboration was the right method to advance solar energy. This wasn’t a “Duke Energy bill” or an “environmental bill” but a true collaborative effort that had stakeholders around the table hashing out various details everyone could agree upon.

There are additional details to work out, and I’m sure they’ll be disagreements to work through. But there are many states like South Carolina that are still in the early stages of advancing solar energy. If groups as diverse as Duke Energy, the S.C. Coastal Conservation League and the Southern Environmental Law Center (among others) can agree on the direction of solar energy in a state … why can’t it happen in other states?

What happens next?

The South Carolina Public Service Commission (PSC) is charged with implementing the new law. Here’s a quick overview:

Net metering – Within 30 days, the PSC will open a regulatory proceeding to establish a net energy metering rate methodology. This will allow utilities and solar advocates to propose various approaches to measuring the benefits delivered by a customer with rooftop solar generation against the cost to serve that customer. I expect that proceeding to last several months. Duke Energy Corporation | P.O. Box 1009 | Charlotte, NC 28201-1009 |

Regulated solar – Utilities are encouraged to diversify their resource base with the distributed energy resource (DER) program. Duke Energy can invest in, or contract for, new renewable capacity equal to 3 percent of the utility’s peak demand. That could be a combined 150 megawatts of solar capacity for Duke Energy Carolinas and Duke Energy Progress in South Carolina.

Solar leasing – The bill also gives residential and commercial customers access to financing of solar facilities by enabling non-utilities and utilities to lease the equipment to customers. This third-party leasing program will be determined by the PSC and administered by the Office of Public Staff.

Solar generation receives a lot of hype. In reality, it’s just another generation source. While it cannot be dispatched, it’s a fuel-less, low operating and maintenance generation resource that will be cost-competitive in the not-so-distant future. Done correctly, solar can benefit utilities, customers and businesses alike.