Column: Solar energy restrictions hamper worthy projects

  • Posted: Sunday, July 7, 2013 11:20 a.m.
Manuel Gomes works to install solar panels in front of Dublin High School Tuesday, June 18, 2013, in Dublin, Ga. The solar panels being installed at the rural Georgia school are challenging one of its biggest electric monopolies. For years, Southern Co. subsidiary Georgia Power has claimed that no firm except itself can sell power in its state-designated territory. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
Manuel Gomes works to install solar panels in front of Dublin High School Tuesday, June 18, 2013, in Dublin, Ga. The solar panels being installed at the rural Georgia school are challenging one of its biggest electric monopolies. For years, Southern Co. subsidiary Georgia Power has claimed that no firm except itself can sell power in its state-designated territory. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Businesses and organizations are constantly looking for ways to save money. We’re all being encouraged to save energy. And the job market is pushing colleges to focus more resources on math and sciences.

But a restrictive state policy is hurting Furman University’s efforts in all three areas.

The Greenville school has been considered a leader in the Southeast for its green initiatives. A key one is its use of solar panels to generate power for the campus, save on utility costs, reduce dependence on energy produced by coal or nuclear plants and demonstrate solar science in action.

However, unless the S.C. Public Service Commission changes the rules, Furman is stalled in those efforts. It has reached the limit the commission has set for solar energy production – 100 kilowatts for non-residential customers.

The limit is there to protect the utilities, which fear losing money when businesses produce their own solar power.

The State newspaper reports that the commission is required to review solar net-metering rules this year. And the commission has decided to hold an interactive public workshop on Sept. 12 to address the issue.

That’s a good start. South Carolina lags much of the country in sustainable energy efforts, in part because of state regulations. Another area the commission should address is solar leasing. Organizations and individuals in the state are not allowed to lease solar panels to produce energy. Owning them is prohibitively expensive for many.

Again, the utilities are throwing up roadblocks to protect their profits.

It is in the best interest of South Carolina, of course, that utilities here prosper and remain able to serve the state’s energy needs efficiently.

But they have shown little interest in solar energy and have made it difficult for others to employ solar power.

Ignoring that ample resource in sunny South Carolina seems shortsighted and environmentally misguided.

Solar energy seems highly unlikely ever to take the place of electricity produced by coal, natural gas and nuclear power. But it already has proven be a useful, non-polluting complement that could grow over time.

The Public Service Commission should listen carefully to all the people who speak up at the public hearing, not just the utility heavyweights.

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