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Our Greenville and Spartanburg offices have closed while Upstate Forever staff work from home to help protect the health of each other, our families, and our communities. But while we are not together in the office, we remain together in our continued efforts to protect our region's critical lands, waters, and unique character.

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Legislative Updates 2020: Week 2

January 27th, 2020
By Shelley Robbins

What is an RTO? 

The highlights:

  • Upstate's Sandifer and Forrester introduce RTO study bill
  • Help for HOA solar restrictions?
  • Offshore drilling update
  • Charleston Waterkeeper on plastics pollution

The details:

Welcome to Week 2 of 18 in the South Carolina Statehouse. Energy continues to be a dominant theme in conservation circles, building on last year's Energy Freedom Act. Driving the conversation is an increasing desire to see more competition, lower bills, and strong movement toward carbon-free energy in South Carolina.

Upstate Representatives Sandifer and Forrester introduce RTO Study Joint Resolution

Discussion around the benefits of creating or joining a regional transmission organization, or RTO, picked up steam at the end of last year's session, and that conversation seems to be continuing this year. Matching joint resolutions were filed in both the House and the Senate (H. 4940 and S. 998) this year to create an "Electricity Market Reform Study Committee" that will study RTOs as well as the possibility of enabling full consumer retail electric service choice, authorizing community choice aggregation, and measures to accelerate South Carolina's transition to emissions-free generation.

Under an RTO, an independent entity would operate and monitor the transmission grid, buying power on a wholesale market from the least-cost producers. Our traditional utilities (such as Duke and Dominion) would operate their power plants (but not the transmission) and would participate in the power market along with independent solar producers and hydro. In many parts of the country, RTOs have increased energy generated by renewables (wind, solar, hydro) as the costs for clean power have dropped dramatically.

The Senate resolution was introduced by Senators Davis, Climer and Campbell, and the House resolution was introduced by our own Representatives Bill Sandifer (Oconee) and Mike Forrester (Spartanburg)This is significant because Sandifer is Chair of the House Labor, Commerce and Industry Committee (LCI) and Forrester is First Vice Chair. All utility legislation must pass through this committee. This is where last year's landmark Energy Freedom Act spent a great deal of time, and Chairman Sandifer dedicated his expert staff to countless hours of negotiations and drafting to craft a bill that would ultimately pass both chambers unanimously.

Note: Upstate Forever will be honoring Chairman Sandifer for his game-changing role in passing the Energy Freedom Act at our Annual ForeverGreen luncheon on February 24. Purchase tickets here.

Help for HOA solar restrictions; Offshore Drilling Update

We hear from citizens who live in neighborhoods with homeowners associations (HOAs) that they are often prevented by HOA rules from putting solar panels on their roofs. That frustration has finally resulted in companion bills that would prevent HOAs from enacting covenants or deed restrictions that prevent residential rooftop solar. S. 1032 was introduced this past week by Senator Tom Davis and H. 5011 was introduced by Representatives Herbkersman, W. Newton, Erickson, Gary Clary (Pickens), Ballentine, Bernstein, Crawford, McCoy, Fry, and Johnson (all coastal except our terrific Rep. Gary Clary). We will keep you posted if either bill gains traction.

In offshore drilling news, H. 3087, the bill we discussed last week that would block state approval of onshore facilities that support offshore drilling and seismic testing, gained two more sponsors in the House, for a total of 72 (out of 124 total House members). We may see a floor vote on this bill this coming week.

Upstate supporters include Representatives West Cox, Gary Clary, Chandra Dillard, Rosalyn Henderson-Myers, Bobby Cox, Jason Elliott, Ashley Trantham, Max Hyde, Leola Robinson, and Jay West.

On the Senate side, S. 870 sponsored by Senator Chip Campsen and similar to the House effort, will be heard in the full Senate Agriculture Committee this Thursday. Upstate co-sponsors of this bill include Senators Glenn Reese, Floyd Nicholson, Ross Turner, Mike Gambrell, Scott Talley and Karl Allen.

If any of these legislators are yours (or you don't know who your legislators are), please use this link to send them a thank you e-mail or phone call.

If you are in the Columbia area and want to join our conservation partners Audubon South Carolina in their efforts to promote clean energy, you can join them on Tuesday evening, January 28 for a Clean Energy Kickoff. More information here.

Charleston Waterkeeper's Terrific Plastics Pollution Remarks

Last week I wrote about the Conservation Coalition's Senate Briefing (held on January 22). One of the speakers was the Charleston Waterkeeper Andrew Wunderly, and I was so impressed with his remarks that I wanted to share them with you. You can read them for yourself through this link.

He hit every important point: plastics bans have come from citizens, commerce did not grind to a halt where they were enacted, and education and cleanups simply aren't enough. You can also learn about our coast's "nurdle," or plastic pellet pollution and a bill filed to address it. The plastics "ban ban" bill (S. 394) that Andrew references was filed last year by Senators Scott Talley (Spartanburg) and Wes Climer and is currently on the contested calendar on the Senate floor, preventing a vote. Upstate Forever opposes this bill, an assault on home rule, and we will keep you posted if action is needed.

Upstate Forever 2020 Advocacy Priorities

Upstate Forever is involved in more than just Statehouse advocacy. Take a look at our 2020 Advocacy Priorities here. From reducing sprawl to protecting water and increasing walkability and housing options, we get around and we welcome your voice. You can sign up for other issue-specific e-mails here.

Odds and Ends and Actions:

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.

Until next week!

Shelley Robbins
Energy and State Policy Director

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