South Carolina will be the fifth most affected state under the solar module tariff that President Trump announced last week. According to GTM Research, the state’s blossoming market will lose out on 336 megawatts, a 19 percent reduction from GTM Research’s original 2018-2022 forecast.
That situation is “unacceptable” according to Matt Moore, the former chair of the state’s Republican Party and the new chair of the Palmetto Conservative Solar Coalition.
That group, formed in November by former South Carolina representative J. Gresham Barrett, hopes to advance solar in the state through promoting free-market principles and energy independence. Trump’s tariffs could throw up significant barriers to that goal. But Moore said the state also has a significant amount of power in advancing its own solar market in the wake of the tariff decision.
Greentech Media spoke with Moore about Section 201, the V.C. Summer nuclear plant debacle, and a state bill introduced in January that would eliminate South Carolina’s net metering cap.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Greentech Media: South Carolina is among the states that will be most affected by Trump’s tariff decision. The state has also been one of the most-watched budding solar markets. How do you think the tariffs will impact the future of solar there?
Moore: The solar panel tariffs are a 30 percent tax on consumers that will reduce energy freedom and kill South Carolina jobs. That is unacceptable in my opinion, and local leaders can do much to fix it. That tariff will kill more jobs than it will possibly create. I will also say this: We appreciate the President looking out for American workers, but American workers are already winning with solar.
Potentially hundreds if not thousands of jobs in South Carolina are at risk. Hopefully, South Carolina can come to some agreement with the administration on country-specific tariffs. If not, it’s obviously a problem for South Carolina workers. Between 3,000 and 4,000 jobs have been created in the solar industry over the past two years in South Carolina.
I would encourage the administration to come down and see the solar success story in South Carolina. It’s easy to sit in conference rooms in Washington and hand down policy, but there are real stories in America of success.
GTM: The administration has framed its energy positions -- supporting coal, implementing tariffs -- as a conservative choice that protects U.S. workers and buoys the Republican base. At the same time, many growing solar markets can be found in red states. What’s the conservative case for solar?
Moore: I think Republican support for solar is growing. Solar power is conservative: It creates energy choices by giving people the choice to create their own power rather than to buy it from monopolies. There’s nothing more conservative than that.
Republicans want the freedom to make their own choices and are willing to embrace energy competition. Choice and competition from solar can enable big savings. Solar companies have a track record of rapidly reducing electricity costs in America. We cannot allow solar energy and all of its benefits to be pushed aside by big power monopolies that want to limit choice.
That’s why the Palmetto Conservative Solar Coalition was created: To bring those ideas to the table, to find commonsense solutions and to promote further conservative ideas. We’re not just looking at this from a dollar-and-cents angle, but also as being good stewards of our environment.
South Carolina has an abundance of sunshine -- we’ve got to put it to work.
GTM: South Carolina’s solar market is growing quickly. What state efforts are worth watching right now?
Moore: The most important thing South Carolina leaders can do is pass H. 4421. That bill would lift the 2 percent net metering cap and undo the exemption that big power companies carved out for themselves in 2014.
We’ve made progress in South Carolina but there’s more work to be done. Obviously our energy future depends on our ability to be way above that cap. That cap is an artificial barrier on solar choice in South Carolina.
That bill does more things as well: It creates transparent mechanisms on consumer bills from the power companies; it makes the proper tax exemption on solar panels codified in state law instead of it being vague. This bill has a number of commonsense provisions that would make solar more available to South Carolinians.
GTM: South Carolina also recently experienced the death of a Republican-supported nuclear plant, the V.C. Summer plant. Do you think nuclear still has a place in the U.S. energy mix?
Moore: South Carolina Republicans are traditionally for an all-of-the-above energy strategy. It seems nuclear power will remain in that mix.
But what we’ve seen is that the big power companies are bad at math. The big power companies' math to explain why solar doesn’t work is incorrect. That’s what we’re fighting against in South Carolina -- a resistance to change based on false assumptions. The V.C. Summer debacle in South Carolina has put power on people’s minds, so it’s a perfect time to talk about the benefits of solar.
When I go out and talk to Republican groups across the state, I hear more demand for renewable and energy choices. What we’re trying to achieve in South Carolina is a free and fair market for renewable energy.
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