From the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains to the sandy beaches of our coast, South Carolina is home to some of the most beautiful landscapes in the nation. These landscapes also represent habitat for a portion of the 400 species of birds that reside in and migrate through our state. Lake Conestee Nature Park just south of downtown, for example, is an Audubon-designated Important Bird Area that supports more than 215 species of birds, including the declining Rusty Blackbird.
Unfortunately, the Rusty Blackbird is just one of many bird populations in our state that is in decline, for reasons ranging from window collisions to habitat loss and rapidly changing weather patterns. Audubon is committed to doing whatever we can to help stem these losses and protect birds and the places they need to thrive, which is why we support expanding market access to clean, affordable solar energy.
This legislative session, bills were introduced in both the South Carolina House of Representatives and the Senate that would help do just that. The SC Energy Freedom Act, H.3659, which just passed overwhelmingly in the House, and the Clean Energy Access Act S.332, which is currently being considered in the Senate, would inject much-needed competition into the energy sector by giving residential consumers and businesses alike greater control over electricity costs and use.
Meeting more of our state’s electricity demands from renewable energy resources, such as solar, means creating less air and water pollution from the production of fossil fuel energy, which presents health concerns for humans and birds alike. Unlike traditional energy sources, solar power also has the added benefit of coming back online after a disaster just as soon the sun starts shining again—a huge advantage in a state that can anticipate ever-stronger storms and flooding.
Beyond the benefits to birds, Audubon believes expanding access to solar energy is the best choice for South Carolina. Our state’s burgeoning solar industry currently supports nearly 3,000 well-paying jobs at nearly 70 companies across our state, stimulates economic investment to the tune of $766 million, and helps us continue to attract world-class businesses to the Palmetto State. Expanding solar energy production will help us continue to grow our economy while providing a healthier climate and cost savings to consumers.
Solar energy is also cheap, relatively speaking, and getting cheaper all the time. In fact, the cost of renewable energy is falling so quickly that it is expected to be consistently cheaper than traditional fossil fuels by 2020, according to a recent report from the International Renewable Energy Agency.
As part of the Solar Habitat Act, which we helped pass into law in 2018, Audubon South Carolina is working closely with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources and solar developers to ensure that solar installations are properly-sited and designed to maximize benefits to wildlife and habitat. With smart policies in place, the state’s solar industry will continue to grow, and this voluntary program will help set commercial solar development on a bird and pollinator-friendly path.
South Carolina has the opportunity to be at the forefront of our nation’s renewable energy revolution, while creating high-demand jobs, generating millions of dollars in investment, and easing the transition away from emissions-heavy energy production. Rather than relying on models and methods from the past, we have the opportunity to innovate and forge a path to a brighter future. Why wouldn’t we take it?
I hope you’ll join us in standing up for access to affordable, responsible solar energy in South Carolina. As a first step, please ask your state senator to support legislation this session to expand access to solar energy. We cannot afford to miss this critical opportunity to create forward-looking energy policy in our state.
Sharon Richardson is executive director of Audubon South Carolina.