Weston Newton

The Bluffton Christmas Parade was, as always, a fun time. We saw many old friends and made more than a few new ones. Unfortunately, the parade was also marred by the unspeakably tragic loss of 5-year-old Ameer Frazier as the event was unwinding.

Rose and I include the Ford and Frazier families in our prayers. This loss, we imagine, is simply incomprehensible, and the stuff of every parent’s worst nightmare.

In legislative matters, Rep. Bill Herbkersman and I were invited by a group of Sun City Hilton Head residents to discuss problems they are having with regard to rooftop solar. Apparently, the rules have been changing and or moving over the years, in a direction that is not favorable to the owner’s rights to install rooftop solar panels.

The concerns, as relayed to us, are that there are no objective criteria, and the SCHH Board of Directors did not seem to be disposed toward encouraging this renewable form of energy production, and, in many respects, appear to be against roof-mounted solar panels.

These folks wanted us to be aware of the situation, and to encourage us to consider a legislative solution to what is otherwise a matter of private contract rights.

Our courts recognize land use covenants as contracts by and between owners and their POA. Fundamentally, I believe private contract rights should be protected, but significant public policy issues can justify overriding or preventing enforcement of restrictions that are contrary to public policy, such as discriminatory rules about who might be able to reside in a certain community.

These rules may be in violation of public policy and not enforceable.

After our meeting, I sent the president of the SCHH Community Association a letter asking for an update of the rules rewrite effort. Interestingly, our Beaufort-Jasper Delegation colleague, Sen. Tom Davis, had written a similar letter in August. So far, no answer for either of us.

I would prefer the community solve their own problems rather than have a legislative solution, but I can’t rule out possible introduction of legislation to prevent arbitrary rules that interfere with a property owner’s ability to exercise his or her private property rights and to reduce his or her own energy costs.

The General Assembly has dedicated two-plus years of work to allow solar energy to play a larger role in our state’s energy production, while also marking a pathway for homeowners to reduce their power bills, which are, on average, among the highest in the country.

Our efforts have also resulted in the creation of dozens of new solar-related companies, which now employ thousands of South Carolinians in this forward-looking industry.

I must admit to a level of frustration with community associations seemingly out of synch with the interests of their property owners, as well as the sustainability issues confronting South Carolina and other coastal states.

Similarly, I was more than a little frustrated with the recent ruling from our Public Service Commission that essentially undercut the manifest will of the legislature as they ignored their mandate to protect the ratepayers from the depredations of the regulated energy monopolies. Stay tuned.

Weston Newton is the representative for District 120 in the State House of Representatives. WestonNewton@schouse.gov