By James Dozier
It was no surprise that national Republicans selected South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley to give the response to President Obama’s final State of the Union Address. Beyond Governor Haley’s well-earned placement on numerous presidential contenders’ short lists, she has also been a champion of conservative, business friendly reforms in South Carolina that stand in stark contrast to Obama Administration initiatives. And, she has taken a free-market approach to clean energy reform that her Republican and Democrat colleagues would be wise to emulate.
Governor Haley entered office in 2011 at a time when South Carolina’s economy faced the largest budget shortfall in history. Stagnant job growth permeated the private sector. Many workers were losing faith in basic functions of state government to address their needs. Most felt the economy showed few signs of turning around. Where so few saw hope, Governor Haley saw opportunity.
Only half a decade later South Carolina workers are bringing home higher wages and even moving into new sectors that reward innovative, skilled labor with more competitive wages. Through decisive leadership, a positive vision, and strong commitment to pro-business reforms, Governor Haley has turned the Palmetto State around.
Much of South Carolina’s success stems from bringing all the key players to the table and finding common sense solutions to promote advance investment in renewable, clean energy that spurs innovation, domestic manufacturing, and the reduction of our carbon footprint. In 2014 she signed the Distributed Energy Resource Program Act into law, transforming South Carolina into a pioneer in solar panel financing and usage. In the past, state regulators had been described as being “hostile” to solar investment. Under the governor’s leadership, free market incentives offered both private homeowners and business owners with the chance to leverage abundant natural resources for profitability.
Conservationists, utilities and consumers all applauded South Carolina for establishing a solar energy system that gives customers the freedom to lease solar power and allows the utilities to establish distributed energy programs. The legislation also set net-metering rates to incentivize current and future customers to go solar. The bill’s complementary provisions have expanded consumer options while increasing cost-effective renewable power in the state. As leaders in Washington fought over the science of climate change, South Carolina policymakers focused on a pro-business solution that has grown the “New South” economy, while preserving the climate and the outdoors we all love for future generations.
This progress isn’t solely viewed as effective policy by economists and environmental organizations; voters also believe it’s good politics. Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions recently conducted a survey that showed that eighty percent of South Carolina Republican primary voters believe that energy policy should be a top government priority. These voters want a common-sense approach to renewable energy that will protect South Carolina’s natural wonders and safeguard the state’s clean air and water.
By distinguishing herself as a leader in clean energy and spearheading the transformation of the South Carolina economy, Governor Haley serves as a model for conservatives nationwide. Republican Presidential candidates and other national leaders would do well to do more than listen to her words in her State of the Union response Tuesday evening. They should also follow her example to find a path forward on clean energy development in the United States.
James Dozier is the Executive Director of Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions.