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!
A few Media Hits:
Solar boosters stop utility’s plans to hike bills for sun power customers in SC (The State, Columbia via MSN)
SC Regulators deny Dominion’s rate plan for future rooftop solar customers (Charleston Post & Courier)
Solar Choice Metering: A Better Way (Duke vs. Dominion) – A blog post by SACE showcases why the enormous turnout was needed for Dominion’s docket, but not Duke’s docket.