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Bill offering tax exemption for solar systems faces tight deadline

Banking & Finance
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A bill allowing property tax breaks for homeowners and businesses that install solar systems faces an 11th-hour vote in the General Assembly.

The measure, S. 626, provides a 100% exemption from property taxes for installation of residential solar systems and an 80% property tax exemption for 10 years for solar equipment that’s not used on residential property.

The bill cleared the Senate in March by unanimous vote and was approved by the House Ways & Means Committee. It received a second reading on Tuesday in the House of Representatives, passing 54-36. It now needs to pass a third and final reading either today or Thursday.

Advocates worry that time is running short for the bill, which is expected to boost the state’s fledgling solar industry.

“This legislation is critical to ensuring no new property tax increase for S.C. homeowners and businesses that are generating their own energy,” said Andrew Newbold, public policy manager for solar system provider Sunrun. “The bill will also help protect the jobs and local businesses associated with the rapidly growing solar industry in the state.”

Tyson Grinstead, Sunrun’s policy director for South Carolina, was the company’s first employee in the Palmetto State when it opened an office in March 2015. Now, Sunrun has about 150 employees and more than 1,800 residential customers in South Carolina, he said.

If the bill doesn’t make it through the General Assembly this week, the solar business will be affected, Grinstead said.

“It will impact our growth and the amount of jobs we are creating,” Grinstead said.

The solar business has rapidly grown since 2014 when South Carolina became the 44th state to adopt fundamental solar policy net metering. Net metering credits solar customers at the retail rate for the excess electricity they provide to the grid. Utilities then sell this energy to customers nearby at the full retail value.

South Carolina has the second fastest-growing solar industry in the United States, but it’s the only state among the 14 states where Sunrun operates that doesn’t exempt solar equipment from property taxes, Grinstead said.

Homeowners shouldn’t have to pay property taxes on roof-top solar system any more than they would for installing a new water heater, Grinstead said.

“No successful solar energy market in the country assesses property taxes on families and businesses who choose to produce their own power,” Newbold said.

Residential customers can reduce their home electric bill by 20% on average, Grinstead said.

Sunrun, based in San Francisco, is a founding member of The Alliance for Solar Choice, an industry advocate for rooftop solar technology.

Reach Chuck Crumbo at 803-726-7542.

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