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Author:  Iulia Gheorghiu        Published: 4/29/2021          Utility Dive

Dive Brief:

  • The South Carolina Public Service Commission (PSC) voted 5-0 on Wednesday in support of a recommendation by solar industry and consumer choice advocacy groups to keep net metering in place while gradually transitioning to Dominion Energy’s existing time-of-use rate schedule for its customers.
  • Dominion had proposed its own plan for new net metering customers, which included a fixed monthly rate with a monthly payment based on the size of the rooftop system. Solar advocates said the plan would kill the residential solar industry in Dominion’s service area. Solar groups view the PSC directive as a sign that regulators agreed the utility’s plan would hurt customer choice.
  • Under the solar industry proposal, residential customers with distributed energy would pay a minimum monthly bill of about $13.50. Dominion Energy’s proposal would have averaged about $50 per month, according to the estimates of solar advocacy groups.

South Carolina legislators have encouraged the state’s solar deployment, viewing it as a way to meet consumer demand and an opportunity for job growth. The Energy Freedom Act of 2019 removed the 2% net metering caps, letting utilities give more customers the option of having their own behind-the-meter resource with a one-to-one net metering policy for a two-year period.

The state’s utilities were accepting new rooftop solar customers in their service until they constituted 2% of their customer base. Duke Energy was the first utility to hit that cap, and subsequent rooftop solar customers would have received less favorable rates for the energy sold back to the grid.

The law also directed the PSC to come up with a new net metering structure. Dominion’s proposal for the replacement included several components that energy choice advocates and the solar industry have criticized this year.

“Dominion Energy’s proposal would have added harmful, unnecessary charges for rooftop solar customers in South Carolina, and this decision rejects that proposal and implements the parties’ suggestion,” Will Giese, Southeast regional director at the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), said in a statement.

With Wednesday’s action, the PSC created a requirement for Dominion to take new distributed resource customer service under a time-of-use rate schedule and to allow customers to carry over monthly excess generation at the full retail rate based on the time-of-use period.

The proposal included suggestions on successor net metering tariffs from SEIA and the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association.

“This unanimous decision will accomplish what the Energy Freedom Act set out to do: support the growth and economic viability of rooftop solar,” Tyson Grinstead, the Southeast public policy director of solar developer Sunrun, said in a statement.

But the state legislature had set an expectation in the 2019 legislation to prioritize the elimination of a cost shift within the next evolution of net metering, Dominion said in its proposed plan.

“Today’s decision means that customers who choose not to have solar panels on their homes will continue to pay more to subsidize the costs for those who do,” Dominion spokesperson Rhonda O’Banion said in an email.

“We believe that our proposal for the new Solar Choice Program complied with the legislature’s expectations and plain language of the law to eliminate the cost shift and/or subsidy to the greatest extent possible.

Throughout the country, net metering disputes often lead a utility to tout the ability to invest in cheaper larger-scale solar.

“With over 1,000 megawatts of solar on our electric generation system, Dominion will continue to be a leader in a clean energy future for South Carolina, and solar energy plays a big part in our plans,” O’Banion said.