South Carolina got a major announcement on Thursday, when solar energy development company Cypress Creek Renewables proposed a major investment in the Palmetto State. Cypress Creek announced they aim to build 2,000 megawatts of solar in SC over the next 3-5 years, which is enough to power about 600,000 homes. This amount of solar means a $1.5 billion investment in our state by a single solar company, and up to 10,000 construction jobs over the 3-5 year build out period. The buildout is reported to be spread among 80 sites, which likely means many localities–predominantly rural–would benefit by the development in the form of local jobs, and revenue from property taxes.
Underscoring the seriousness of their investment in South Carolina, Cypress Creek also announced a partnership with Greenville Technical College to begin a solar jobs training program. A 2 gigawatt buildout of solar will require trained workers and the partnership with Greenville Tech is a good step in ensuring that South Carolina’s workforce will be adequately prepared for the multi-billion dollar opportunity of solar power.
In addition to ensuring South Carolina’s workforce is ready for benefiting from the clean energy economy, we must also make sure that our state’s policies are ready in order to receive the maximal benefits. For example earlier this year, the South Carolina Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill to standardize a consistent 80% property tax abatement for solar farms from county to county, which helps to facilitate big investments in the state from solar developers. The bill went to the House Ways and Means Committee, where they should pick it up and give it a hearing when the legislative session resumes.
Similarly, South Carolina officials must ensure that power utilities are not giving short shrift to the many benefits of solar farms. Solar is now some of the cheapest electricity available. Lazard’s annual report comparing costs of various electricity generation types, released just last Thursday, confirms this, as does the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s annual solar cost report, released last month. Not only that, but since solar doesn’t need to burn any fuel, the low costs are locked in for the decades-long lifetime of the solar farm and not subject to fuel cost swings like conventional fuels are. Yet some South Carolina utilities are still putting up roadblocks to getting more solar farms online and failing to save customers money by doing so. When solar farms can provide power with no upward pressure on rates, utilities should make sure that the high-value power is quickly brought online and should lock in the savings that solar can provide.
The failed V.C. Summer nuclear project should make the lesson clear: competitive options for low cost electricity that can be brought online quickly, flexibly, and without incredible complexity should be encouraged. It is coincidental that Cypress Creek’s announcement of a 2 GW commitment is about the same capacity as V.C. Summer’s new reactors would have had, yet it serves to underscore that where the path of V.C. Summer failed, solar power is delivering. Solar is delivering the power, the jobs, and the environmental benefits that nuclear couldn’t.