Utility Crony Capitalism: South Carolina maintains its laws granting utilities monopoly rights on the sale of electricity, blocking solar.
Electric utilities wield large amounts of political control in a lot of states. (I have heard it said that the Southern Company is the fourth branch of state government.) Apparently that is true in South Carolina.
A recent opinion piece in Myrtle Beach Online (Third-party solar sales: Chorus calling for clean energy access) lays out the case:
Wiley Cooper, a retired Methodist minister, has been on a mission to change South Carolina energy law, creating a petition after his church was prevented from entering into a contract for solar energy. Earlier this year, InterTech’s Grant Reeves penned a column in the Post & Courier with the same call to action. Both Cooper and Reeves are seeking the elimination of a decades-old restriction in South Carolina law that effectively prevents churches, businesses, and any other organization from installing solar panels at a reasonable cost. It’s not that the panels themselves are too expensive. It’s that the law restricts a market-based solution for financing clean energy.
Businesses like InterTech, organizations like Mr. Cooper’s church, and investors like myself are not calling for something radical. Instead we’re calling for an update of restrictive utility laws like those that have been made in numerous other states. In many other states, individuals and institutions can enter into third-party solar energy sales agreements, in which the developer of the solar project finances and maintains the panels and then sells excess power back to the grid. This way, organizations can get a low-cost, fixed-price on renewable energy without paying to purchase or maintain their own miniature power plant.
What possible reasons can their be for maintaining a utility monopoly so it does not have to compete with another potential supplier, especially if you espouse an belief in free market capitalism? The only thing I can think of is that you really believe in utility crony capitalism.
According to The State (South Carolina’s Home Page!):
During the past two years, utilities have spoken against a policy that could make solar cheaper for Monson and others, spoken against a bill requiring power companies to use more renewable energy and watched quietly as a bill to increase solar tax credits withered in the state Senate.
Records show that big utilities and the state’s electric cooperatives association have spent $2.2 million lobbying lawmakers in the past 2½ years. (Why solar power rarely shines in SC)
It looks like a spend of almost $1M per year on South Carolina legislators buys a continuation of utility crony capitalism.