COLUMBIA -- The South Carolina House has taken a surprise step and killed a solar energy bill that passed a key vote last week.
The bill removing a cap on the amount of solar energy in the state failed to pass Tuesday after opponents had it ruled a property tax increase.
The proposal received a majority vote last week with both Democratic and Republican support, but tax increases require two-thirds approval to pass. Tuesday's 61-44 House vote fell nine votes short.
Bill sponsor Rep. James Smith says the proposal was an answer to problems on relying on older energy sources which led to two failed nuclear plants and billions in debt.
The Democrat from Columbia running for governor told opponents they were killing 3,000 jobs and the solar power industry in South Carolina.
The legislation is known as the “South Carolina Electric Consumer Bill of Rights Act."
Votes to separate the provision of the bill relating to property tax – which produced the two-thirds requirement – and thus pass the bill with a simple majority failed on a vote that broke down along party lines. A majority of Republican members of the House voted to defeat the bill.
“This was a vote to subsidize utility companies at the expense of ratepayers," Smith said. "From the governor on down, defenders of the status quo defeated this effort to support a lower-cost alternative for power."
Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Columbia, said, “They voted against giving South Carolinians a real choice in how they power their homes. Instead, they voted for a giveaway to the utility companies that have already cost ratepayers billions of dollars.”
Rutherford continued, “On top of that, House Republicans just killed thousands of good-paying jobs. This is a blow to South Carolina’s economy and this is a blow to South Carolina’s energy future.”
As detailed in a report by The State newspaper of Columbia, South Carolina is nearing a 2 percent limit set on solar power. Unless the cap is removed, solar proponents say the rooftop solar industry will go away and residents will find solar panels to be more expensive.
Power companies opposed the bill, arguing that it would hurt them and customers not using solar. Utilities are expected to lose more than $1 million a year in coming years to the growing rooftop solar market in South Carolina, according to The State's report.