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Panelists: Conservative Movement to Develop Clean Energy Well Underway

Nathan Ballentine - SC Representative; Chairman of the SC Energy Caucus Tyson Grinstead, Policy Director with Sunrun Charles Hernick, Director of Policy and Advocacy, CRES Forum Matt Moore, Chairman of the Palmetto Conservative Solar Coalition Bret Sowers, Chairman of South Carolina Solar Business Alliance.

If it weren’t already obvious, South Carolina has turned a corner on solar energy: Individuals of every political stripe now support further developing this technology and other innovative clean energy resources. A recent poll by Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions (CRES) Forum found that 75 percent of voters nationwide favor the government playing a role in the development and advancement of clean energy sources like solar, including a strong majority of the conservative voters polled.

But it isn’t as if conservatives are merely coming on board—we are proud to say there is a very active and enthusiastic movement underway among conservatives who support clean energy.

We saw this firsthand last week as we sat on a panel for a “Clean Energy Forum” at the Columbia Hilton. The event was organized by two conservative groups, the aforementioned CRES Forum and the Palmetto Conservative Solar Coalition. Dozens of conservative legislators and other interested individuals were in attendance, and it featured a keynote address by Erick Erickson, the prominent conservative political commentator.

It’s true that, in the past, many conservatives were skeptical of solar energy because the technology wasn’t convincing and the main approach to funding was through subsidies rather than private-sector investment.

But as Mr. Erick Erickson, the featured speaker at the event noted, “We embrace all of the above; we are not scared of energy alternatives.”

“The conservatism that I think has made the conservative movement in the country what it has become is the one that recognizes free markets and individual liberty,” he explained. “A conservatism that says government should not throw up barriers to your opportunities and choice, and a government that should not be beholden to propping up monopolies.”

As Matt Moore moderated our panel discussion the theme of consumer choice and individual freedom came up frequently. These principles are particularly important to conservatives, because solar energy empowers South Carolinians to take control of their own energy. For example, Charles Hernick recounted speaking with dyed-in-the-wool libertarians from New Hampshire who told him they supported rooftop solar installations because they wanted to be independent of the grid and didn’t want the local utility telling them what they could or could not do on their property.

We all agreed, and we think most conservatives would as well, that no utility company or government official should be able to tell you how you can generate your energy.

Solar power generation on personal property was another hot topic our discussion—specifically because of the existing two percent cap on net metering imposed by South Carolina state government. The net metering cap is unnecessary and arbitrary, especially considering 40 other states rely on net metering as a fundamental building block for their solar industries without a cap.

Mr. Bret Sowers noted that if electric monopolies can learn to compete, consumers will benefit. Furthermore, if the utilities embrace change and support doing away with the cap, it will help attract major investment to South Carolina.

“We just, as a state, brought in Volvo and other companies that have global outlook on energy, not just in the U.S.,” Mr. Sowers explained. “They have needs for their corporate responsibility and they also have their operating costs.”

Rep. Ballentine then emphasized that policymakers have had strong reactions to our state’s nuclear power fiasco last summer—which cost 5,000 jobs—but that their efforts also demonstrate why we need to be proactive with solar policy, not reactive.

“We are about to run into the exact same thing to the tune of 3,000 jobs, which are also 3,000 families, if we don’t get House Bill 4421 across the finish line,” Rep. Ballentine said. That legislation, which Rep. Ballentine introduced last month, is key to being proactive on solar energy and critical to protecting jobs and economic growth associated with the solar industry.

He told the audience he doesn’t see much resistance to the bill and expects bipartisanship to prevail, but he urged legislators to act before the session ends in June. If we’re serious about being proactive, we can’t wait for our state’s solar consumers to exceed the existing two percent cap. H.B. 4421 needs to be passed without delay.

The discussion concluded by highlighting the hope technology offers. Mr. Tyson Grinstead echoed the need to be forward-looking; he noted that the net metering cap isn’t just about cost, it’s about spurring innovation and technology so residents have the ability to “produce power at your home at a moment’s notice.”

Charles Hernick added, “We have an opportunity do with electricity what was done with telecommunications in terms of deregulating and offering consumers a choice in terms of not just the quantity but the quality of energy.”

“Clean energy and solar power—that’s liberty,” Mr. Hernick said fittingly, summing up the sentiment at the event and among South Carolina’s conservatives.

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