- - Tuesday, May 22, 2018

You might have missed it amid the never-ending drama in Washington, D.C., but a war over energy production and rates rages in America’s heartland.

On one side, a strange-bedfellows coalition of Republican leaders, tech innovators and clean energy advocates argue for lower rates through innovation and market-driven pricing. On the other, utility companies and their army of lobbyists fight tooth and nail against change — their wallets padded by your electric bills.

These Big Power dinosaurs have spent the last century enjoying the benefits of their government-sponsored monopolies, including protection from competition and guaranteed profits. What’s worse is their stunning hubris.

For example, a Duke Energy executive recently said ratepayers struggling to make ends meet should eat fewer “Big Macs.” Seriously. The company failed to mention that Duke’s CEO is making a record salary of more than $21 million this year. Let them eat cake, or cheeseburgers, I guess.

Big Power is one of the few American industries that has not been upended by innovation and technology. We’ve sent a car toward Mars and have infinite information at our fingertips — but the way we power our homes has remained the same over a hundred years. This needs to change, because stagnation is the antithesis of the free-market innovation that has made America an economic powerhouse.

As the former chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party, I have seen firsthand the real impacts of subsidizing outdated, expensive energy infrastructure. Energy consumers in my home state are paying an average of $27 a month on their electricity bill to subsidize construction for two nuclear reactors that will never produce a single watt of electricity.

This saga started in 2007 when the big utilities struck a deal that allowed them to build billions of dollars in nuclear infrastructure on the backs of energy consumers across the state. Now, 11 years later, there’s nothing to show for it except ratepayers owing billions more for a hole in the ground.

What gives? We only need to look at Big Power’s monopoly business model for clues. To make a profit, investor-owned utilities build energy infrastructure like poles and wires. They socialize the costs across their ratepayers, plus they receive a guaranteed profit allowed by state regulators.

This structure explains why utilities continue building big, expensive projects while actively working against competition from independently funded, affordable, clean energy solutions like home solar.

Home solar has much to offer. For conservatives like me, homegrown solar energy reflects my core values of independence and reliance on the free market. For states, solar offers economic growth, jobs and a way to lower the highest electricity bills in the country.

Here in South Carolina we are approaching yet another energy crisis. Solar is currently limited to 2 percent per utility, under state law. Hitting this cap will severely limit access to home solar energy, bring our state’s growing solar economy to a grinding halt, and putting thousands of good-quality, local jobs in jeopardy.

Our freedom to choose where our power comes from and get fair credit for the energy we produce is an important piece of America’s energy future. Which is why a bipartisan group of South Carolina legislators recently tried to pass a bill that would get rid of restrictions on the amount of solar for homeowners. That bill died at the hands of Big Power-backed legislators using last-minute, unprecedented procedural maneuvers to rig the system.

Thankfully, many state policymakers — from both parties — are looking out for citizens and not monopoly utilities. These legislators have given South Carolina solar a lifeline. Over the next few weeks, it will be up to a select few to determine the future of thousands of jobs and energy freedom across the state.

Our country is at an energy crossroads. We can allow defenders of the status quo to either dig in their heels and promote the costly, outdated energy infrastructure of the past, or we can embrace innovative energy sources like home solar to empower citizens to make their own choices.

It’s time for all policymakers to start listening to the voice of the people instead of the Big Power monopolies. It’s time for energy choice in America.

Matt Moore is chairman of the Palmetto Conservative Solar Coalition and former chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party.

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