From the Post and Courier

COLUMBIA — South Carolina’s growing rooftop solar industry scored a major victory Thursday, winning key approval for a bill they say will increase the emphasis on renewable energy and save thousands of jobs.

Lawmakers in the House of Representatives passed legislation eliminating caps on residential solar power in the state. The measure extends incentives that advocates say make rooftop panels an affordable prospect for homeowners in a state that’s faced soaring electricity rates.

The 64-33 vote concluded a months-long feud over the future of rooftop solar power and shifted the issue to the Senate where the battle is expected to be no less contentious.

Installers fear that failing to lift a cap on the credits homeowners get for using rooftop solar panels would risk thousands of new jobs that have come to the the state in recent years.

The program, known as “net metering,” allows homeowners with solar panels to sell excess energy back to the utilities at the same rate they pay for power.

Utilities contend ratepayers are being forced to subsidize an industry that has already gotten off the ground and mostly benefits wealthy residents.

To undercut that argument, solar proponents changed their bill to prevent the utilities from raising customer rates to pay for the subsidy, instead forcing the companies to eat the costs.

According to regulatory filings, that solar cost in 2017 was $4.4 million for South Carolina Electric & Gas and $1.2 million for Duke Energy.

Lingering anger over the state’s $9 billion nuclear debacle helped push the measure over the edge, as solar advocates repeatedly pointed out that those lawmakers trying to subvert the effort were the same legislators who pushed the 2007 law that shifted construction risks onto ratepayers.

“I’ve been here for 13 years, and a lot of the times the little guy doesn’t win,” state Rep. Nathan Ballentine, R-Chapin, said.

“It speaks volumes that everybody is listening the constituents back home,” he added. “I think we’re learning lessons and it shows utilities don’t rule the roost around here.”

State Rep. Bill Sandifer, the Oconee Republican who introduced a separate utility-backed bill that failed, declined to comment while leaving the Statehouse.

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