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March 20, 2012

One Man's Environmental Epiphany Leads to Statewide Solar Success Story

Bruce-Monson

Ever question whether one person's actions can make a difference? South Carolinian Bruce Monson learned the answer after he was penalized for going green.

"Six years ago, a dear friend asked if I'd be interested in supporting the Sierra Club," says Monson, a self-described conservative who had never before been an environmental activist. "I responded, 'Maybe—I don't know.'"

His friend, a resident of neighboring Georgia, was patient but persistent.

"Over the years I've watched her sacrifice and advocate vigorously to protect the environment," Monson says. "One day, after observing the anguish on her face as we paddled our kayaks through a disgusting pool of sludge on the Savannah River, something changed within me. I accepted culpability and joined the Sierra Club. Even without children of my own, I felt a responsibility to reduce pollution for the future of other children and advocate for the environment."

At a Sierra Club retreat in the Georgia mountains two years ago, Monson became interested in solar power as an alternative to coal. Back home, he followed through and assembled a 7-kilowatt solar array on his property outside Columbia.

Bruce-Monson-solar-array

"It felt like I was finally contributing in some significant way to help mitigate an environmental travesty," he says.

Monson signed a contract with Tri-County Electric, his local non-profit electrical cooperative. But he was shocked when he got his first bill.

"They wanted $50 every month for sending my solar-generated power into the grid," he says. "The cooperative was publishing eco-friendly messages to the public, but their rate structure discouraged homeowners from going solar, in effect making it more expensive to produce clean, green energy from rooftop solar panels than to purchase coal-fired power from the grid."

Rather than acquiesce, Monson challenged the surcharge. He met with his local utility, wrote to his representatives in the state legislature, and contacted all 18 of South Carolina's electric cooperatives—all of which had the same penalizing rate structure.

Although Tri-County Electric continued to charge their fee and stall any resolution, Monson submitted his argument along with various financial alternatives to the Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina, which formed a committee specifically to address the net-metering policy for individual green energy producers.

"Exactly a year after installing my solar array, Tri-County Electric and all but three of the 18 electric cooperatives in South Carolina have revised their policies—and I'm optimistic the three others will do the right thing," Monson says.

The cooperatives now encourage homeowners to produce clean energy by offering incentives rather than penalties. "The fee for a grid-tie connection is now the same low rate as other residential customers enjoy, and I sell my solar power for the same price as I purchase power from the grid when the sun doesn't shine," Monson says.

"It wasn't easy, but I've experienced the power of persistence and of hope. I am now proud to be a Sierra Club member who is not afraid to speak up and get involved. Above all, I encourage others who may be fighting similar battles to persevere and not give up too soon. It is the only way change is possible."

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