On Tuesday the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) took a big step forward to encourage more solar power in the state. The PSC acts on behalf of telecommunications, electric power, and natural gas consumers in Georgia and ensures safety, reliability, and affordability. Georgia Solar Utilities Inc., a company launched in Macon, GA earlier this year, filed an application with the PSC in September for authority to generate solar energy in Georgia on a utility scale.
Under an old Georgia law — The Georgia Territorial Electric Service Act of 1973 — Georgia Power was given the exclusive right to provide power to all homes and businesses in Georgia. Any other major power provider, like a solar integrator who builds a massive solar farm, would be in direct contention with the Territorial Service Act and thus Georgia Power’s exclusive right to provide power in the state.
The motion passed by the PSC on Tuesday encouraged Georgia Solar Utilities to appeal to the General Assembly to amend that law and open up the power generation business to competition, specifically solar energy companies.
If the Territorial Service Act is amended to allow other entities to become power generators, it is likely that innovative solar installation solutions like solar leasing and 3rd party power purchase agreements could pop up in Georgia.
Under a solar lease, home and business owners can have solar panels installed with no upfront cost. The solar lease allows consumers to pay less each month on power bills thanks to financial savings from selling the power that is generated by solar panels.
Georgia Senate Bill 401 would have made it legal for solar companies to sell excess energy earlier in the year. Though the bill had bi-partisan support, Georgia Power opposed it, stating that it would likelyincrease power rates in Georgia.
Senator Ross Tolleson, one of the main opponents of the solar lease bill, said that opening the solar market to competition would make electric bills jump 15 to 20 percent.
“To have another third party seller of electricity would work against the system we have and make everybody’s rates go up,” Tolleson said in a WSB TV interview.
Solar energy enthusiasts like consumer advocate Clark Howard think otherwise. “The reason they opposed it is they know there would be far more solar installed in Georgia. They are frightened of that,” Howard said. “Typical savings if you lease panels as people do in other states will be 30 to 50 percent of your power bill,” he added.
PSC Commissioner Lauren McDonald said that solar energy “provides an outstanding opportunity to supplement our fossil and nuclear power sources, and because of the rising costs of coal, solar energy has become competitive with fossil fuels. Studies continue to show that Georgia has a significant amount of solar potential, and I believe that it is in the best interests of Georgians that this Commission take appropriate actions to encourage parties to bring innovative solutions for our consideration.”
PSC Commissioner Stan Wise quoted a Bloomberg New Energy Finance article saying that “non-mandated solar generation might put downward pressure on the utility’s rates” in a state like Georgia which currently lacks broad solar policy support.
Allowing more solar in Georgia will also create jobs. The solar industry employs more than 100,000 Americans, more than twice as many as in 2009. They work at more than 5,000 companies, the vast majority being small businesses, in all 50 states. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, solar businesses added 6,735 new workers in all 50 states since August 2010, which represents a 6.8 percent growth rate. During the same 12-month period, jobs in the overall economy grew by a mere 0.7 percent, while fossil fuel electric generation lost 2 percent of its workforce.
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