Electric utilities and solar energy developers across the U.S. have clashed over how much the utilities should have to pay for the energy supplied to them by homeowners with solar panels. In South Carolina, the sides reached an agreement Friday and both are claiming a win.
The typical rooftop solar household is also a miniature power plant—it generates more electricity than it uses during the day, and the excess power goes into the grid. At night it generates nothing, and the house relies on grid power. Essentially, the utility pays the homeowner, like it would a private power plant, and subtracts that payment from the homeowners bill at the end of the month.
In South Carolina, utilities have agreed to pay the same retail rate they charge.
“It’s a great thing,” says Brian Miller, co-chair of the Alliance for Solar Choice, an industry group. “It’s a major moment in the trajectory of these rooftop solar battles that have been going on for three years.”
Utilities across the country have argued they should not have to pay homeowners the full retail cost of electricity, since it includes other baked in costs, like maintaining the grid. Some charge rooftop solar homes an extra fee. In South Carolina, utilities have agreed not to tack on fees, the first state to do so, says Miller.
Like many utilities, Duke Energy has opposed paying rooftop solar owners its retail price for electricity. Yet company spokesman Ryan Mosier calls the agreement “a positive step” and a “win-win.”
As for the price Duke will pay, Mosier says, “It’s okay in that it’s a ‘grandfathering in,’ so to speak.”
The agreement only locks utilities into paying the agreed rate until 2025 at the latest. After that, state regulators will create a new price, based on upcoming studies to determine a definitive value for rooftop solar. That calculation will determine the ultimate winner.