“You mean there’s a catch?”
“Sure there’s a catch,” Doc Daneeka replied. “Catch-22. Anyone who wants to get out of combat duty isn’t really crazy.”
Joseph Heller, Catch 22
By Buck Williams, Energy Correspondent for TPT
When I read about the most recent shenanigans from the monopolist utility South Carolina Gas & Electric (SCE&G), I thought to myself: “Wow. Joseph Heller would be so proud.”
Heller published a masterful novel in 1961 centering on an Army regulation called Catch-22. Essentially, it institutionalized a circular logic method to determine whether a person was sane enough to fly combat missions.
If you continued to fly the missions, you were clearly insane and could be grounded if you asked. But if you asked, you were clearly sane and had to keep flying. In other words, you were going to keep flying the missions no matter what — Catch-22 left airmen no way out.
SCE&G just created a 21st century version of Heller’s regulation, designed to destroy the solar industry in the state. As so many other utilities around the country are doing, SCE&G is trying to subtly scuttle net metering (NEM), a billing mechanism that credits solar-energy-system owners for the electricity they add to the grid.
Read and delight in this “brilliant” scheme:
SCE&G has proposed a buy-all-sell-all arrangement, also known as a Value of Solar Tarrif (VOST) or Feed-in-Tariff (FiT). VOSTs and FiTs create an odious, obnoxious situation that forces customers to sell all the solar power their systems produce to the utilities and then have to buy the power back from the utilities. As an added bonus, homeowners would be taxed on the income they receive from the sale of their solar energy.
(As an aside: I’ve railed and railed and railed against utilities because they are nothing more than crappy socialist, state-sponsored monopolies. Breathtakingly stupid proposals like this one from SCE&G is why utilities need to be broken up and forced to compete in an actual free market — but I digress.)
Phew. That’s insane enough. But here’s where the scheme would boggle even Heller’s ample imagination:
All the way back in December (apparently, SCE&G executives have a short-term memory problem), SCE&G and Duke Energy (one of the state’s other utilities) agreed to support NEM. I even took to these pages to laud them for it.
But under the utilities’ current proposal, it would cost a customer thousands of dollars to choose NEM in SCE&G. Or a customer can receive thousands of dollars from SCE&G for going solar, but only if that customer agrees to sell all of their power to the utility at an ever-changing rate set by the utility. And besides the fact that they have to continue purchasing power from a utility that continually raises rates, they also have to accept an increased tax burden while doing so.
Takes your breath away, doesn’t it?
I’d like to tell you SCE&G needed the money this bizarre arrangement would bring them. I really would. But this is a utility that has raised rates seven times in the past five years. Seven times, five years. I’m no math wizard, but I do own a calculator. That averages out to nearly 1.5 times per year.
SCE&G’s proposal flies in the face of the strong public sentiment for rooftop solar, which topped 90% in a recent poll. But I’m afraid the proposal will pass after SCE&G buys a few more statehouse politicians.
But for now, the power of that 90% could save the state from its own foolishness. South Carolina should join our conservative brethren at TUSK to fight this. It’s the only way out of this horrible Catch 22.
IndianaDG will continue to report on the fight on net metering and other renewable energy policies in other states but especially from states where there are operating subsidiaries like Duke Energy.