Solar savings shine in South Carolina

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SC House to SCE&G: We’re just not that into you anymore
April 10, 2018
As South Carolina hits its solar cap, options to go green and save money dwindle
September 5, 2018

A solar farm installed at W.E. Parker Elementary School is expected to save the Edgefield School District $900,000 over the course of a decade.

Those of us sweating in the humidity of the Lowcountry summer might wish the sun would give it a rest, but all of that daylight means big savings for people with solar panels. How big?

A large solar installation at an Edgefield elementary school is expected to save the school district $900,000 over the next decade.

Isle of Palms, which is participating in a community solar plan through SCE&G, expects to save about $13,000. City officials didn’t even have to install any solar panels.

The average home with solar panels can save about $1,000 per year — especially during sunny summer months when the air conditioner runs steadily.

But the savings are more than just monetary.

Every kilowatt generated by a solar panel in South Carolina is one less kilowatt generated by polluting coal or natural gas. It’s one less kilowatt from a nuclear power plant that will leave behind toxic waste.

Solar energy is essentially greenhouse gas emission-free, which means that it doesn’t contribute to climate change and the sea level rise that threatens the South Carolina coastline. It doesn’t create particulate matter that exacerbates respiratory illnesses and can cause heart disease and other problems.

So the recent prediction from the Solar Energy Industries Association that the state will gain a whopping 366 megawatts of new solar power in 2018 is worth celebrating. That’s about one-sixth the total new electric capacity that would have been produced by the two failed nuclear reactors at the V.C. Summer site in Fairfield County.

Solar energy can’t meet all of South Carolina’s electricity needs. It only works when the sun is shining, and battery storage is still too costly to make it competitive with other options.

But embracing solar can help reduce the need for more expensive investments in new power plants. And that should be of particular concern given the state’s still-unresolved $9 billion nuclear fiasco. We simply cannot afford another expensive, risky investment.

Unfortunately, the industry expects that South Carolina’s solar expansion will slow dramatically over the next few years without legislative action.

The Legislature killed an effort this session to raise the cap on home solar generation, for example. And other efforts are needed to make larger-scale solar installations more practical.

Of course, even without new laws to boost solar power in South Carolina, the benefits of installing panels or buying into a community solar program are more than apparent. That doesn’t mean that lawmakers shouldn’t work to make solar even more attractive. They should.

But there’s no need to wait on the Legislature.

For better or for worse, South Carolina gets a lot of sunshine. Put it to good use.