The Energy Office is housed within the ORS and serves as the principal energy planning entity for the state. In contrast to other ORS programs, the Energy Office is non-regulatory, and as per statute, “…must not function as a regulatory body.”
The mission of the Energy Office is to advance South Carolina’s energy strategy and policy through education and outreach. In this capacity, it promotes the efficient use of all energy sources. Specifically, the Energy Office encourages energy efficiency, renewable energy, and clean transportation through a broad range of initiatives to include:
- Developing the State Energy Plan
- Providing Technical Assistance
- Offering Financial Assistance
- Conducting Education and Outreach
- Maintaining Energy Data
Funding for the Energy Office comes from the U.S. Department of Energy through its National State Energy Program, which funds energy offices in every state, as well as multiple territories and the District of Columbia. The intent of this funding is to enhance energy security, advance state-led initiatives, and maximize the benefits of energy efficiency. Currently, these funds support six employees who conduct research, outreach, data collection, and technical assistance across the state.
The Energy Office is home to South Carolina’s State Energy Plan. Over the past nine months, the Energy Office has been engaged in an Energy Efficiency Roadmap, a stakeholder process designed to reassess the Energy Plan according to current priorities, identify new opportunities, and develop implementable actions to advance energy efficiency. This effort has involved over 70 stakeholders and included a series of workshops and six working groups.
Public outreach is essential to the Energy Office’s mission. We frequently interact with the public in a variety of ways through various stakeholders including public facility managers, environmental educators, environmental groups, utilities, businesses, and homeowners.
In recent years, the Energy Office has increased its public efforts through participation in a wide spectrum of events, presentations, conferences, and festivals. Given an increasing emphasis on schools’ STEM programs (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), the Energy Office has also become more involved with energy education initiatives.
Passage of the Energy Freedom Act last year increased opportunities for solar energy development in the state, as people have been getting knocks on their doors for solar panel sales. One example of the Energy Office’s response has been to increase outreach to consumers, guiding them toward informational resources, such as the solar.sc.gov website, which is designed as a one-stop shop for consumer decision-making. It provides information about frequently asked questions, what kinds of questions consumers should be asking and thinking about, and how to get assistance.
Another significant and ongoing initiative of the Energy Office is technical assistance and training. For example, the Energy Office works with the Association of South Carolina Energy Managers and provides training for energy and facility managers through the Accredited Commercial Energy Manager Program. The Energy Office also provides assistance to energy managers on their energy plans and their energy use reporting.
Also, through the financial programs the Energy Office administers, including several low-interest loan programs along with its mini-grants, it is able to assist entities with implementing energy-savings projects that they would otherwise be unable to undertake.
Catherine Reed, Deputy Director, has been back at the Energy Office since October 2018. She says the atmosphere of collegiality is one of the things that makes the job so rewarding.
Reed says going forward, the work of the Energy Office is certain to grow in importance, and she noted several trends.
“The thing we’re seeing nationally is a greater emphasis on resiliency,” Reed says. “That can be defined in a lot of ways, but there’s an acknowledgement that energy efficiency is the first step in making us better able to deal with challenges and emergencies.
"The other development we are seeing is the growing recognition of the need to focus on issues of energy burden and equity. With the Energy Efficiency Roadmap, we convened a group of stakeholders looking at addressing the energy needs of the low- and moderate-income community. With the COVID 19 pandemic, those needs are only increasing and much more work needs to be done. These are two trends we are seeing, and our education, outreach, and programmatic efforts in these areas will only continue to grow."