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January 13th, 2020
By Shelley Robbins
Welcome back to the Legislative Update from Upstate Forever's Energy and State Policy Director Shelley Robbins! Each week during the South Carolina Legislative Session (from January to May), Shelley shares a weekly dispatch featuring the lates information about important bills, opportunities to contact your representatives, and other news.
Would you rather receive these weekly Legislative Updates in your inbox? You can sign up to do so right here. The Legislative Update will hit your mailbox every Sunday evening during session.
Welcome back to the Legislative Update! The South Carolina Legislature will be back in session on Tuesday, January 14, 2020, for the second year of their two-year session. The biggest significance of this is that bills that did not pass in 2019 are still viable. They do not have to be re-filed and can continue to be debated. But once this session ends in 18 weeks (in mid-May), all bills that haven't been passed by both the House and the Senate are dead (and would need to be re-filed next year with new language).
Last year (in the first year of the two-year session), you helped get the Energy Freedom Act passed unanimously. That landmark solar bill shifted a lot of the decision-making to the SC Public Service Commission (PSC) but with specific guiding principles.
The Energy Freedom Act placed the rates and contract terms firmly in the hands of the PSC. These were issues that the Legislature did not need to wrangle with year after year. There were three new Public Service Commissioners and a clear mandate to the PSC from the Legislature: Approve terms that will increase solar generation and competition in South Carolina.
The PSC, after listening to testimony by the utilities, conservation groups, the Office of Regulatory Staff, and solar developers, voted to approve rates and contract terms for large-scale solar that would effectively strangle the development of competitive clean solar energy in our state. We asked you to take action and you did!
Your outcry prompted multiple op-eds by legislators, including two here in the Upstate: this op-ed in the Greenville News by Greer Representative Bobby Cox and this op-ed in the Spartanburg Herald-Journal by Spartanburg Representative Max Hyde.
The PSC listened and revisited the issue for Dominion's solar contracts and came back with significantly improved terms. Read more about that here. The PSC will hear arguments for improving Duke Energy's solar contract rates and terms in February, but this is a step in the right direction.
Long story short: Your actions made a difference. Thank you!
There are seven commissioners, one from each Congressional district. Candidates are vetted by the Legislature's Public Utilities Review Committee (PURC) and then voted on by the full Legislature. New commissioners for Districts 2, 4 and 6 were selected last year, and this year candidates for Districts 1, 3, 5 and 7 are going through the process. The Upstate is largely served by commissioners from Districts 3, 4 and 5. Tom Ervin of Greenville was chosen for District 4 last year.
Thanks to recent legislation, the screening criteria for commissioners has become more rigorous. The issues today are more complex than they have ever been for energy issues, so this is a good thing. Interestingly, last week the the PURC found only 6 of the total 15 candidates qualified, and they passed a motion to request that the screening period be extended so that more qualified applicants can be found for consideration.
If you know citizens who would make great PSC candidates for Congressional Districts 3 or 5, information about that process can be found here. And I will let you know when there is news on this issue. And here is a blog I wrote in December about a rather fascinating energy news week and what it says about South Carolina energy policy and the PSC.
Last year was a big year for us. A big, awesome year. (I can never say thank you enough.) This year, barring unforeseen circumstances, we will focus on improving the budget allocations for the South Carolina Conservation Bank and for the State Water Plan. The Conservation Bank is a critical tool that helps our land trust protect the iconic properties we all love (such as Grant Meadow on Highway 11, Rocky River Nature Park, and Stumphouse Mountain, to name a few). The State Water Plan effort will create River Basin Councils and a process to assess current and future demands on our surface water resources. Upstate Forever's Erika Hollis is been part of the planning team. Funding is needed to establish the RBC's and to complete their assessment in a timely manner. With the growth we are facing in the Upstate, we simply cannot drag this process out.
We will also continue to work on additional energy bills, especially H. 4260, the Ratepayer Protection Act. Many thanks to Upstate Representatives Gary Clary and Bill Sandifer for their leadership on this bill. And we will continue, as always, to fight regulatory rollbacks.
We were thrilled to see a new bill pre-filed for consideration this spring that requires the installation of EV charging infrastructure at all state welcome centers. We were even more thrilled to see that the sponsors of H. 4732 were Greenville Representatives Mike Burns, Bill Chumley, Jason Elliott, and Leola Robinson. Please tell them thank you!
Last year, the Senate took a firm stand against offshore drilling. The House, on the other hand, advanced competing bills, both for and against. Both of those bills now await debate and vote on the House floor, perhaps early in the session. Heads up. We will keep you posted.
Would you rather receive these weekly Legislative Updates in your inbox? You can sign up to do so right here. The Legislative Update will hit your mailbox every Sunday evening during session (January through May).
Did your senator or representative do something awesome this week? Tell them! Use this link to find out who represents you, and if you love a bill they are supporting, please let them know. You can also just use the link to tell them what is important to you.
Thank you for your time, attention and support. Until next week, and let's make 2020a year of extraordinary vision for South Carolina.
Energy and State Policy Director