By Taft Wireback
Legislators from North Carolina and South Carolina told a clean energy group Tuesday the two states should work together in developing new, better and more innovative ways to distribute the benefits of solar power and other forms of renewable energy.
South Carolina state Sen. Tom Davis urged the nonprofit groups Conservatives for Clean Energy and Chambers for Innovation and Clean Energy to consider what the two states might accomplish in tandem.
“I’d like to explore North Carolina and South Carolina doing things together,” said Davis, a Republican from Beaufort, S.C., noting that goals would include “breaking down territorial monopolies” to benefit residential customers and businesses of all types.
In a panel discussion during the nonprofits’ annual gathering at Proximity Hotel, Davis found much in common with his North Carolina GOP counterparts, state Rep. Larry Strickland, whose district includes parts of Harnett and Johnston counties, and Rep. John Szoka of Fayetteville.
All said the grip maintained on energy markets by such regulated utilities as Duke Energy and South Carolina Electric & Gas has worked to inflate costs for ratepayers. At the same time, they said, it has restrained the growth and customer benefits that renewable energy could bestow in an environment less dominated by such agencies as the North Carolina Utilities Commission and the Public Service Commission of South Carolina.
“We can come up with a plan that is good for the state of North Carolina and the ratepayers,” said Strickland, who added that solar farms had been invaluable in making it financially feasible for families in his urbanizing, once-rural district to retain their agricultural lands.
Solar, wind and other clean energy innovations have a reputation for attracting support from those whose politics lean left. But Szoka said there was nothing conservative about the current status quo where market forces are held back by a regulatory system with its roots in the 1930s.
“I’m on the side of innovation and free markets,” Szoka said, adding that the “highly controlled monopolies” that run the industry today are approaching “a tipping point” where change is imminent.
“Their best days are behind them and I think we need something else,” he said.