Environmentalists, Tea Party Patriots Win Solar Expansion at PSC
(APN) ATLANTA — After weeks of advocacy by environmental groups and their unlikely allies, the Tea Party Patriots, the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) on July 11, 2013 voted three to two in favor of an amendment by Commissioner Lauren “Bubba” McDonald (District 4) to increase the amount of solar energy in Georgia Power’s energy mix by one percent.
Commissioners McDonald, Tim Echols (District 2), and Doug Everett (District 1) voted in favor of the amendment to Georgia Power’s Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), while Chuck Eaton (District 3) and Stan Wise (District 5) voted against.
The amendment–which is technically not a “mandate” because Georgia Power agreed to it despite their preference for natural gas–requires Georgia Power to increase its commitment to solar energy by 525 megawatts (MW), or one percent, in the company’s IRP. The new solar energy should be online by 2016.
As previously reported by Atlanta Progressive News, Georgia Power had resisted calls for many years to increase its renewable energy portfolio, but the company is slowly coming around.
Last year, in 2012, Georgia Power voluntarily agreed to an Advanced Solar Initiative proposed by Commissioner Eaton, which added an additional 210 MW of solar energy to the company’s then-current 61.5 MW. This had tripled their investment in solar energy, but was still less than one percent of their total energy portfolio.
While the IRP technically does not include things that the PSC already approved for Georgia Power–for example, nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle, existing coal plants that are not set for retirement, or the Advanced Solar Initiative–the IRP sets forth a blueprint for changes the company will make to meet projected energy demands in Georgia over the next twenty years, according to Ted Terry, a spokesperson for Georgia Solar Utilities who is also running for Mayor of Clarkston, Georgia.
Therefore, the McDonald amendment will expand the solar energy component of Georgia Power’s energy mix, by one percent, to a total of 1.5 percent by 2017.
The vote ended several weeks of debates, questions, and phone calls by clean
energy supporters and opponents on why more solar was or was not needed in the most recent IRP. The PSC revisits the IRP every three years.
This historic vote will help stabilize electricity rates and create potentially hundreds of clean energy jobs, supporters say.
The IRP, approved by the Commission in a final vote of four to one, with Commissioner Wise dissenting, also seeks to retire several coal plants in Georgia.
“Solar is the best bet against rising electric rates — the fuel will always be free and you’ll never have to spend millions on environmental controls,” Colleen Kiernan, Director of the Georgia Chapter of the Sierra Club, said in a press release.
“Georgia Power just filed for yet another rate increase to pay for obsolete, unnecessary coal plants, while Georgia’s Public Service Commission is providing true leadership and protecting consumers,” Kiernan said.
“Before the Commission proposed this new solar development, Georgia Power’s long-term energy plan had no program to add clean energy,” Ashten Bailey with GreenLaw said in a press release. “With this new initiative, we’re no longer at the back of the pack and can truly compete to be a clean energy leader in the Southeast.”
Commissioner McDonald argued recent technological advancements have brought down the costs of solar power enough to justify additional investment. “We’ve got to approach this in a business like fashion and try to stay ahead of the curve,” McDonald told the Atlanta Business Chronicle newspaper.
Groups on the right and the left of the political spectrum supported the solar expansion in Georgia.
One group that was opposed to the amendment was Americans for Prosperity, a political group founded by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch. They held a protest, which only a few people attended, across the street from environmental groups during the PSC deliberations.
AFP lobbied the PSC in mass emails, handouts, and phone calls, claiming that requiring Georgia Power to buy more solar energy could raise Georgia ratepayers bills by as much as forty percent.
However, this information was proven to be inaccurate by Georgia Power representatives, the PSC staff, an Associated Press review of the facts, and other sources as misleading before the PSC vote. The data AFP used was determined to be years old and not relevant to prices today.
“It is unfortunate that the duly elected Public Service Commissioners chose to ignore the concerns of their own constituents and the over 3,600 opposition emails that AFP Georgia activists sent to them. This shows a willingness to put the wishes of special interests ahead of hard-working Georgia taxpayers,” Virginia Galloway, AFP State Director, said in a press release.
Ironically, AFP is one of the groups that helped launch the Tea Party, yet they were forced to oppose their own colleagues, the Tea Party Patriots, on this issue. It goes to show that once people are encouraged and empowered to be a part of the political process, they cannot be controlled.
“Now is the time to take this momentum and push forward for a fair and open bidding process on new solar energy projects by Georgia Power. Furthermore, we will also be looking at the Legislature next year to make sure our elected officials know that this movement for more solar and ratepayer rights has only just begun,” Debbie Dooley of the Atlanta Tea Party Patriots, and co-founder of the Tea Party movement, said in a press release.
“Southern Company is a giant utility monopoly and deserves some competition and consumers deserve a choice. This next Legislative session we will be asking legislators to overturn the Territorial… Act of 1973 that allows monopolies to exist,” Dooley told Chris Hayes in a recent interview on NBC.
While the McDonald amendment does not address the Georgia Power monopoly, it was about consumer choice at a more abstract level, in that it was responding to the choices consumers are articulating about where they want their energy to come from.
If the Territorial Electric Service Act–which, as previously reported by APN, gives Georgia Power a monopoly over the purchase of energy in Georgia, and prevents consumers and businesses from obtaining solar panels through power purchase agreements–is overturned, this will be a paradigm shift that will open up Georgia’s huge underdeveloped solar potential with new companies, jobs, and opportunities for the free market to work.
Dooley is working on a new conservative, clean energy movement called the Green Tea Party.
Georgia is fifth in the nation for solar energy potential, yet is currently ranked 38th for the total number of solar power projects installed.