SC utilities and solar builders at odds over price for power contracts
South Carolina’s power companies and the solar industry are at odds over how much utilities should pay for the large arrays that continue to pop up across the state.
The seven members of the S.C. Public Service Commission soon will decide how much Duke Energy and Dominion Energy — the state’s two investor-owned electric utilities — must pay independent solar farms for the power they produce and supply to the electrical grid.
Those price points are expected to have a huge impact on how many new utility-scale solar projects are constructed in the state and could ultimately decide how much competition there is in the energy sector in South Carolina.
South Carolina’s investor-owned electric utilities are regulated monopolies with set service territories. Dominion, which purchased South Carolina Electric & Gas this year, supplies power to customers around Columbia, Aiken and Charleston. Duke Energy’s two subsidiaries in South Carolina electrify homes and businesses in the Upstate and the Pee Dee.
Those utilities have traditionally produced the vast majority of the power their customers use, and they regularly receive a guaranteed profit margin for any plants they own.
The issue before the Public Service Commission is how much the utilities need to pay independent power providers that want to supply electricity to their customers. Many of the arguments the utilities and solar companies made during hearings last month were based on complicated energy forecasts and long-term modeling.
But the basic dispute comes down to one thing: The solar developers in South Carolina want the utility commission to force Duke and Dominion to pay a higher price for solar power than they currently are.
The solar industry argued the addition of more solar power benefits customers by ensuring the utilities won’t need to build massive multibillion-dollar power projects in the future. And additional solar capacity, they say, will insulate consumers from the price swings for fuel that gas, coal and nuclear stations can be subject to.