DCS Energy Inc., a company marketing a solar program in South Carolina, left the state because of a legal battle with South Carolina Electric & Gas (SCE&G), the state’s largest power company. DCS was offering free solar panels to churches, schools, governments, charities and local governments in several areas in South Carolina to be paid for with federal stimulus money and some cash from private investors. The solar panels would have saved the organizations thousands of dollars in energy costs.
SCE&G filed a legal complaint on September 23, 2011 that DCS was a utility company that was illegally moving into its area and did not have South Carolina state approval. Records show that DCS is Connecticut firm started in 2006 with seven full-time employees and does solar installations. SCE&G, a subsidiary of SCANA, a Fortune 500 company with over $13 billion in assets headquarterd in Cayce, serves about 634,000 electric power customers. DCS argued that it is not a utility company but decided not to fight the big SCE&G corporation and stopped the solar program in South Carolina. The complaint caused investors to withdraw and the federal stimulus money would not be enough to make the program worth it to DCS. www.scana.com, www.dcsenergy.com.
SCE&G cites South Carolina law that makes it illegal to make/sell power without state authorization from the Public Service Commission (PSC). Randy Watts, state office of Regulatory Staff investigating utility issues, said how solar and other alternative energy companies play into that definition is an issue that may need addressing by either the PSC or the SC legislature. Power companies in southern states have exclusive rights to certain territories but are facing a loss of revenue from competition of renewable energy like solar and wind.
Called the 1603 stimulus program, payments up to 30 percent of the cost of renewable energy installations such as wind turbines, solar panels, and geothermal systems would be paid to companies like DCS by the U.S. Department of Treasury only after the equipment was installed and in service. The program was discontinued in December 2011.
80 SC contracts were pending according to Will Whitaker, the former Columbia, SC DCS field representative. The stacks of solar panels are gathering dust in a downtown Columbia warehouse and no one seems to know what will happen to them without DCS. Some of the largest scheduled installations were to be worth $117,000. The organizations that were to get them for free most likely will be unable to come up with that kind of money now. Craig Bradway, DCS president said, “We had (dozens of) systems planned. Some were for towns and counties, and some were for nonprofits and churches — the very people who could use some help.”
Organizations in Greenville, Anderson and Charleston counties, the town of Lexington, Brookland Baptist Church in West Columbia, the Harvest Hope Food Bank in Columbia, Saxe Gotha Presbyterian Church in Lexington, United Pentecostal Church in Cayce, Pisgah Lutheran Church and Red Bank United Methodist Church in Lexington, and Glenforest School in West Columbia (whose power bills average $5,000 monthly) were some of the groups mentioned who either had contracts or were writing them up, but couldn’t get their free solar panels. Christ Central Ministry’s downtown Columbia office, a veterans’ shelter in Lexington, and about a dozen other SC buildings did get their DCS installed solar panels before the project was aborted.
Some local Greenville officials wondered how DCS could give away free solar panels and make a profit. DCS president Bradway said the renewable energy credits generated by the free solar projects were to be sold. That was the agreement between the recipient organizations and DCS, that DCS would keep the earned credits to sell them on the open market for profit for the company and their investors. Because the panels were offered free to them, none of the SC organizations lost money except in their projected power savings ranging from several hundred dollars per month to thousands of dollars. It sounds like SCE&G would have lost a lot of income in utility bills from these groups if the projects had gone through. Coal, gas and nuclear power survived another threat from alternative energy. Maybe as DCS attempted to do, the federal government could be making money giving out free panels to organizations and selling their renewable energy credits to corporations. For a 30 percent investment they would be getting at least 70 percent return on the money and keeping solar panel manufacturers like Solyndra from going bankrupt. Most likely the federal government would not be stopped by the South Carolina Public Service Commission. http://www.greenvilleonline.com/article/20120312/BUSINESS/303110031/Big-utility-foils-nonprofits
Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) or Renewable Energy Certificates are proof of generating one megawatt-hour (MWh) of electricity from one of the eligible renewable energy sources. The RECs DCS would have sold were actually be solar renewable energy credits (SRECs). One MWh equals 1,000 kWh and the average residential customer uses about 800 kWh monthly. Selling credits provides incentive to companies to invest in the use of renewable resources and lessens damage from fossil fuels on the environment.