Sara Hummel Rajca

Sara Hummel Rajca of SolarizeSC shows the workshop crowd an example of a photovoltaic solar cell. “We’re working on Aiken," she said. "Hopefully we can solarize Aiken this year.”

More than 40 people showed up to the Energy and Environmental Committee’s third and final solar energy workshop Thursday night to have their renewable resource questions answered.

Attendees were quick to question installation costs and tax refunds, utility credits and energy sell-backs. Members of the audience asked how much, when and how quickly.

And while Elise Fox, of the Savannah River National Laboratory, and Sarah Hummel Rajca, of SolarizeSC, were quick to give out answers, they also had some consumer advice: take it slow.

Before taking the solar plunge, Fox said, consumers should act with due diligence and be “doing their homework.”

“I want people to make smart, educated decisions about solar,” said Fox, who studies solar energy and how it has changed throughout the state. “No question is a dumb question when you’re talking about this.”

During the presentation, Fox and Rajca laid out a step-by-step guide to entering the solar market.

The first step is contacting one's utilities company. Then, Fox said, consumers should get a handful quotes.

“The cheapest price isn’t always the best,” she said.

The average solar set up in South Carolina will cost a consumer $14,175, Fox said, if all incentives are utilized – the best case scenario. She said most people take out a low-interest loan or pay cash flat-out for the initial installation and purchase of solar equipment. Solar companies also offer financing options.

Rajca said buying a system “straight-out will save you the most money.” Most solar systems in Aiken are handled this way, Fox said.

But Fox also warned the audience to not act hastily.

“It’s something you need to make an educated decision about,” she said. “Take your time with it.”

If purchasing isn't favorable, consumers can lease a solar power system. But that, Fox said, comes with a long contract, which can impede the sale of said house if not seen to completion.

“Make sure you know what you’re getting into,” she said, adding that companies will usually stretch the lease out to 20 years.

If purchasing or leasing isn’t an option for a homeowner – because their house is too shaded by trees, for example – consumers can opt into community solar.

Community solar users purchase into utilities of scale and use solar power that is generated elsewhere.

“You don’t have it on your property, it's somewhere else,” Fox said, “but you can still have some of the benefits of having your electricity generated by solar.”

SCE&G offers the community solar option, as does the Aiken Electric Cooperative.

Only 10 or so houses in Aiken County utilized solar power three years ago, according to Fox.

“That’s not much at all,” she said.

That number has since exploded, Fox said, because of “landmark” legislation.

In 2014, Gov. Nikki Haley passed the Distributed Energy Resources Program Act. Act 236, as it quickly became known, requires SCE&G and Duke Energy to produce 2 percent of their peak demand via solar energy by 2021.

“It was the first time we had comprehensive, non-partisan based legislation looking at increasing renewable use within our state,” Fox said.

Colin Demarest is a reporter with Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since Nov. 2017. He is a New Jersey native and received his B.A. in Journalism and Mass Communications from the University of South Carolina. Follow him on Twitter: @demarest_colin