Rooftop Solar Saved from the Brink in South Carolina
We WON a good-old-fashioned organizing victory against Dominion Energy South Carolina, a powerful investor owned utility (IOU) serving 750,000 electric customers from Columbia to Charleston. For all my fellow Sierrans fighting Investor Owned Utilities (IOUs) who actively want to END rooftop solar in your state, take heart. Their “subsidization” arguments can be used against them.
In a state where community solar is nearly nonexistent, a solar victory at last! The April 28, 2021 announcement that the SC Public Service Commission (PSC) unanimously rejected Dominion’s filed tariff/fee structure was surprising given the state’s recent Energy Freedom Act of 2019 which was refashioned by monopoly utilities to ensure there was no cost shift from non-solar customers to rooftop solar customer generators. On its face, we in the pro-solar camp don’t want “subsidies” either, but in reality the over-reaching tariff was designed to not only cool the booming rooftop solar industry, but drive it away completely by pricing interconnection out of reach for many families, the majority of whom selected rooftop solar as a way of dealing with the disproportionately high bills we pay in S. Carolina. (Duke and Dominion rooftop customers enjoy a progressive one-to-one net metering rate that has benefited families since becoming law in 2014). Dominion had inadvertently included in previous testimony that the actual cost shift amounted to pennies per meter. With this disclosure, their true motivation for the new fees became abundantly clear.
This decision is unprecedented in our state, and maybe our region as well. Our solar story showcases the importance of owning the narrative. Intervenors attribute this story about an urban farm having to scrap its solarization plans with news of the new fees (projected to burden the average family or small business with an extra $750 per year). Marrying food justice issues to energy justice issues proved too “juicy” for the media to resist.
This is the third major decision from our NEW public service commission directed at Dominion within a year (the rate hike “pause,” the rejected integrated resource plan, and now this solar tariff). We began our organizing work with a strategy session in December, 2020 which culminated in a nighttime hearing on March 23, 2021 which we fought for and won (again, an unprecedented public request which was granted by the PSC only after Dominion tried to restrict the hearing to Dominion customers only even though it likely affected all South Carolinians.) We appreciate the new PSC putting the “public” back into the public service commission.
I would like to thank Ready for 100 and especially Drew O’Bryan and Rachel Dupree, who helped me get my nuanced argument together for an op-ed. Our team was anchored by longtime volunteer Pamela Greenlaw who went above and beyond by leafleting her solar neighbors even during a pandemic. Thanks to local Midlands group Sierra Club chair Priscilla Preston who carefully monitored the PSC hearings ALL day and adjusted her comments accordingly in conjunction with others so all our points were made. In a record-setting event, we had 260+ people testifying until 1:30 a.m. or later and another 191 submitting written comments! (For comparison’s sake, that is 2.5 times the number of testimonies delivered against Dominion’s unjustifiable rate hike case last year at the height of the pandemic). The PSC heard our arguments and voted unanimously to say NOPE to both Dominion’s proposal and S.C. Office of Regulatory Staff’s worse alternative! Dominion did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Cost shift narratives like the one used by Dominion are some of the hardest to beat when going up against investor owned utilities. It’s an oldie but a goody, frequently utilized by IOUs all over the country. The good news is if we can beat the IOUs here, we can beat them anywhere!
Contact information for impacted organizations listed below Groups Notify Biden Admin of Impending Lawsuit Over Nuclear Bomb Core Plans Multi-state coalition says DOE’s plans to massively expand plutonium pit production violate a major environmental law and constitutes an environmental injustice.
A coalition of public interest organizations notified the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) urging a comprehensive review of plans to vastly ramp up production of nuclear bomb cores at the Los Alamos National Lab in New Mexico and the Savannah River Site in South Carolina. In Tuesday’s letter to department officials, the groups say this lack of review violates the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and would saddle already-burdened communities nearby the two DOE sites with significant quantities of toxic and radioactive waste, contravening President Biden’s executive order of making environmental justice a part of the mission of every agency.
“The federal government appears ready to embark on this significant change in U.S. nuclear policy without studying the cross-country risks and environmental justice impacts, which indicates that the health and safety of workers and downwind and downriver communities are not worth the consideration or protection they deserve,” said Leslie Lenhardt, a staff attorney for the South Carolina Environmental Law Project, a law firm representing the coalition. The organizations listed in the letter include Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety, Georgia Women’s Action for New Directions, Gullah/Geechee Sea Island Coalition, The Imani Group, Honor Our Pueblo Existence, Tewa Women United, Nuclear Watch New Mexico, Savannah River Site Watch and Tri-Valley Communities Against a Radioactive Environment. The latter three groups intend to file an action pursuant to NEPA within 60 days if DOE and NNSA fail to reconsider its decision. The nuclear watchdogs have reached out on more than five occasions since 2019 to DOE and NNSA over the necessity of a broad, nationwide programmatic environmental impact statement, or PEIS, of producing the nuclear weapon triggers, also known as plutonium pits, at the two sites. In its March 22, 2021 correspondence (download PDF) with the groups, NNSA said it has no plans to revisit its review of pit production, relying instead on a supplemental analysis of an outdated PEIS completed more than a decade ago, along with a separate review done for the Savannah River Site alone. The coalition has numerous concerns, including the hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars on the line, uncertain future radioactive waste disposal that could strand yet more plutonium in South Carolina, and the risk of lethal accidents, fires, radioactive and hazardous waste releases that could harm the predominantly low-income and African American communities near the Savannah River Site and the Pueblo communities and other minority populations living around the Los Alamos National Lab. Beata Tsosie, Environmental Health and Justice Program coordinator for Tewa Women United, commented, “It is clear that communities impacted by nuclear colonialism need healing, strength and restorative justice. We know that the environmental violence our land-based and Native Peoples, ecologies and waters continue to endure from nuclear contamination will not end until the harm stops. It is imperative that the Biden Administration conduct a nationwide public review of its plans for expanded plutonium pit production that give affected communities a real voice in fighting for true environmental justice. It is our right that a commitment is made to get this done.” Marian Naranjo, founder of Honor Our Pueblo Existence, said: “The Los Alamos National Lab is located on a geographically unsafe area for the work that transpires there, a place that is and has been considered as Sacred to Pueblo People since time immemorial.” Tri-Valley CAREs’ director Marylia Kelley highlighted the national implications of NNSA’s decision to expand pit production. “The driver for the program is a novel warhead, called the W87-1, under development at California’s Livermore Lab that requires wholly new components including pits. The W87-1 and a new Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent missile to carry the warhead are both under scrutiny in Congress and within the Administration, which is just beginning its nuclear posture review. NNSA should conduct the necessary programmatic review to help inform these important decisions rather than try to outrun them.” “To compound the lack of a thorough system-wide analysis of disposal of waste streams from pit production, the politically motivated Environmental Impact Statement on SRS pit production unacceptably waves off Environmental Justice issues without even so much as a cursory analysis,” noted Tom Clements, director of SRS Watch. “There is urgent need for preparation of a PEIS that does not marginalize environmental justice issues as a tactic used to justify a second factory to produce plutonium components for provocative and costly new nuclear weapons.” Jay Coghlan of Nuclear Watch New Mexico commented, “Instead of maintaining the safety and reliability of the existing nuclear weapons stockpile, NNSA may actually undermine it because all future pit production is for speculative new-design nuclear weapons. This is a colossal and unnecessary waste of taxpayers’ money on top of already wasted taxpayers’ money.”
The South Carolina Environmental Law Project protects the natural environment of South Carolina by providing legal services and advice to environmental organizations and concerned citizens and by improving the state’s system of environmental regulation.
Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety is a 33-year-old non-governmental organization, based in Santa Fe, NM. CCNS works to inform and educate the public, elected officials and the media about DOE activities in New Mexico—at Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant—impacting public health, water, air and lands.
Georgia Women’s Action for New Directions envisions a world without militarism or systemic violence, with just, healthy, secure, and sustainable communities, and in which Georgia is a leader in regional, national, and global movements. They are an independent, community-driven, grassroots, woman-led organization that works on environmental justice issues as they relate to impacts of nuclear projects at the Savannah River Site, including plutonium pit production. Contact: Janie Scott, (404) 524-5999, [email protected]
The Gullah/Geechee Sea Island Coalition operates in accordance with the mission of the Gullah/Geechee Nation to preserve, protect, and promote their history, culture, language, and homeland and to institute and demand official recognition of the governance (minority rights) necessary to accomplish our mission to take care of our community through collective efforts, which will provide a healthy environment, care for the well being of each person and economic empowerment. The Gullah/Geechee Nation spans from North Carolina to northern Florida and receives the downward flow of the Savannah River, which brings its benefits and also could bring disastrous impacts to a community that relies so closely on the water. Contact: Queen Quet, Gullah/Geechee Sea Island Coalition, [email protected]
Honor Our Pueblo Existence is a nonprofit organization based in Santa Clara Pueblo, New Mexico, immediately downwind from LANL. We embrace the Pueblo teachings of love, respect and care, working together to improve the life ways of our people in order to provide an enhanced and sustainable environment for generations to come. Contact: Marian Naranjo, (505) 929-2151, [email protected]
The Imani Group is a Graniteville, South Carolina non-profit founded by Rev. Brendolyn Jenkins Boseman in 2004, to address criminal and environmental justice, as well as youth development. As the founder she has served on the Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site’s Citizen Advisory Board and works to address environmental issues at the Savannah River Site and other sites affecting underserved communities. Contact: [email protected]
Nuclear Watch New Mexico’s mission is to: promote safety and environmental protection at regional nuclear facilities; mission diversification away from nuclear weapons programs; greater accountability and cleanup in the nation-wide nuclear weapons complex; and consistent U.S. leadership toward a world free of nuclear weapons. Expanded plutonium pit production will have adverse environmental justice impacts given that the population within the Los Alamos Nuclear Laboratory’s 50-mile radius Region of Influence is largely People of Color. Contact: Jay Coghlan, (505) 989-7342, c. (505) 470-3154, [email protected]
Savannah River Site Watch monitors a host of projects at SRS from the public interest perspective, with a focus on cleanup of existing waste and plutonium management and pit production.
We are attentive to health and safety impacts, especially to workers and populations near to the Savannah River Site and are very concerned that NNSA has summarily waved off reviewing the probable environmental justice impacts from plutonium pit fabrication to minority populations living at the fence line.
Contact: Tom Clements, (803) 834-3084, [email protected] Located in the ancestral Tewa homelands of Northern New Mexico, Tewa Women United is a multicultural and multiracial organization founded and led by Native women. Our Environmental Health and Justice Program integrates body, mind, and spiritual awareness into environmental justice advocacy, policy change, and community education while uplifting Indigenous and land- based families and oppressed Peoples to build grassroots leaders and community capacity.
Tri-Valley Communities Against a Radioactive Environment is a non-profit founded in 1983 by frontline residents around the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) to conduct research, analysis, education and advocacy regarding the environmental justice, health and proliferation impacts of LLNL in California and the U.S. nuclear weapons complex of which it is an integral part.
Please consider adding your name to the letter to President Biden from the Sierra Club Nuclear Weapons Grassroots Team. When you click on the link, you will see an opportunity to add your name and comments as well as other actions you can take.The Biden administration is undergoing a Nuclear Posture Review process so it is especially important to contact him now. Mark Muhich from the Nuclear Weapons Grassroots Team will present a Columbia Friends Second Hour Zoom program on this topic on April 18 th , 2021 at 11:30.
Join Back from the Brink and the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons on Thursday, March 4th for: Ending Nuclear Weapons Before They End Us: Opportunities Under The Biden Administration To Take Action The threat of nuclear war is real and growing, but momentum for nuclear weapons abolition is on the rise. The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons has officially made nuclear weapons illegal under international law. But we need YOU to get involved to once and for all, rid the planet of nuclear weapons. Join us for interactive workshops and a virtual policy briefing on March, 4th at 11 am ET.