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Is solar energy worth it? WMBF Investigates Examines Fees Charged By Utility Company To Solar Customers

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HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) – Many people may be looking to cut utility costs when buying a home in the Grand Strand.

To do this, some may seek to reduce their carbon footprint at the same time by turning to solar energy to power their homes.

But a Socastee retiree told WMBF Investigates that the fees added to his bill by his utility company could mean he will never see a return on his investment.

Roger Leach bought and had his panels installed over a year ago on the roof of his house. The price of solar panels is falling and Leach has been able to take advantage of discounts and tax breaks. But he still paid a pretty dime – well over $ 10,000.

This cost, Leach felt prepared for. This is what started showing up on his Santee Cooper energy bill that he was not.

“My investment will never be profitable. Never, ”Leach said. “

The reason, he said, is due to the billing mechanisms appearing on each month’s bill.

“I like to think I was doing it, one, for the environment. But the main reason, obviously, is to save money. And when you retire, you have a fixed income, ”Leach said. “You don’t want things to be expensive. But in the end, solar panels, solar energy was very expensive, very expensive. And a lot of my neighbors who also have solar panels have the same problem. “

Here’s how it works: Leach relies on the energy its panels generate on a sunny day. But without a battery to store the excess, that means his house is failing to use Santee Cooper’s power when it gets dark.

A standard charge, for all Santee Cooper customers, both solar and electric, is $ 19.50. Public relations specialist Tracy Vreeland said it covered the cost of billing, meter reading and other administrative tasks. But that doesn’t cover infrastructure, she said.

“Infrastructure is part of your electric bill,” Vreeland said.

But for customers who use solar power, they also have a charge called Solar Stand-By KW Charge. This rate is $ 4.40 per kilowatt generated by your panels.

This translates to $ 22.22 on Leach’s bill each month.

That charge, however, doesn’t go directly to supporting your solar power, Santee Cooper explained. Instead, it serves to support the infrastructure to provide their electricity.

“We want to make sure that all of our customers are treated fairly. So our pricing structure is set so that all of that infrastructure stuff – the poles, the wires, all of that – is on the regular customer’s bill, ”Vreeland explained. “Well, solar customers don’t rely on this all the time. They therefore have to offset these costs so that our other customers do not pay for our solar customers. “

Vreeland said it’s this load that ensures that the infrastructure Santee Cooper uses to deliver its electricity to a solar customer’s home is paid for and ready at all times.

But what if you generate even more solar energy than you need?

Leach explained that this goes back into the grid, which the power company then gives energy credits to the solar customer for the contribution. And that’s where he found another quirk in his bill.

“Santee Cooper gives us just under 4 cents a kilowatt,” Leach explained. “Realize that when you buy it, you pay 11 cents per kilowatt. “

Vreeland provided the following information in a follow-up email for the price difference.

Vreeland said solar power is beneficial in terms of cost, but customers need to get the right amount of panels, saying it is not cost effective to generate excess solar power.

“We recommend that you get just what you need so that you don’t pay for additional panels, and then not get the benefits for your home,” she said. “You can absolutely have too many panels and create so much power that you can’t use it that it’s not worth the cost to you.”

Vreeland recommends that consumers do their homework: call their utility company to find the range of panels you would need and find the best solar company for you. The utility company provides a list of business allies on its recommended website, along with more information on how its program works.

“You don’t want to spend a lot of money on signs that won’t make you money,” Vreeland said.

Leach said that at this time he would not recommend switching to solar power.

“Before you put solar panels on the roof, look at the costs. And you’ll probably find out what we found out too late, that it’s actually costing you, ”Leach said. “You don’t gain anything, other than your carbon footprint, of course. “

Vreeland said Santee Cooper’s pricing structure may change in the future.

“Our current pricing structure was established before we had the solar program. It is therefore designed to serve all of our customers at all times, ”she said. “We are looking at many different programs to help reduce our peak hours and depending on the time of day usage. “

But that won’t happen for years. Vreeland said in an email that “any potential rate restructuring would take place after the current rate freeze in 2025 at the earliest, so it is currently unclear what the impacts of this possible restructuring will be on different categories of customers. “.

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