Georgia Power Getting into the Solar Panel Financing Business
With additional reporting by Matthew Charles Cardinale. Photograph courtesy of Georgia Power.
(APN) ATLANTA — July 01, 2015, is going to be a big day. The Solar Power Free-Market Financing Act, HB 57, sponsored by State Rep. Mike Dudgeon (R-Johns Creek), will go into effect, thus opening up solar panel options for Georgia residents and businesses.
On the same day, Georgia Power is planning to announce that one of its unregulated subsidiaries is going to get into the solar panel installation business.
As previously reported by Atlanta Progressive News, the new law has opened up the market to competitive financing by third-party independent solar companies for rooftop solar for homeowners and businesses.
This allows consumers to finance the up-front costs of purchasing and installing solar panels, then using their energy savings to pay back those costs over time.
Now, it appears that since Georgia Power could not beat ‘em, one of its subsidiaries is preparing to join ‘em, by offering rooftop solar options to its customers.
“Things are in finalization stages… We will offer solar sales and installation services through an unregulated business unit by July 01,” John Kraft, a Georgia Power spokesman, told APN.
“Fanning has publicly suggested that he wants to insulate his monopoly from competition through his solar program,” The Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC)–which represents several of the larger solar companies in the United States and leads rooftop solar advocacy across the country–said in a press release.
When asked about solar, “I want to be the one who sells it to you,” Fanning told the USA Today newspaper.
Georgia Power can do a better job of servicing its customer base with distributed solar than other companies, it believes.
“Those comments raise a red flag for us and one that we need to call into question on how Georgia Power is going to enter the market,” Tyson Grinstead, spokesman, for TASC, told APN in a phone interview.
The solar industry is worried that Georgia Power will have an unfair advantage, if they use ratepayer money to subsidize their solar business, thus, possibly offering lower rates and driving independent third party solar companies out of the market before they get off the ground.
“What TASC wants to see is a free and fair market in Georgia where competition is on a level playing field and where everyone will compete fairly. We have a good product but we can’t go up against a [regulated] utility who are using guaranteed profits to prop up their solar company,” Grinstead said to APN.
“The intent [of HB 57] is that third party solar companies and the utilities would compete on a fair basis… It also means that the utilities would not use money from regulated businesses to undercut and subsidizes rates in order to drive third parties out of the market,” Rep. Dudgeon said in a letter to Georgia’s Public Service Commission (PSC).
HB 57 does not give Georgia Power approval to compete in the rooftop solar market without authorization from the PSC.
“They [Georgia Power] are included within the definition of solar financing agent that is authorized to do the third party financing, but that is all HB 57 does. They have to have regulatory approval to conduct their programs under the Public Service Commission – they still have to go through that,” Stephen O’Day, head of Environmental Law and Sustainability with Smith, Gambrell and Russell law firm explained to APN in a phone interview.
“If they use one of their unregulated subsidiaries, then they would not have to go through the PSC for approval,” O’Day said.
Indeed, Georgia Power does plan to use an unregulated subsidiary.
“That nullifies that concern, in our view… our Georgia Power regular retail customers will not be subsidizing this other business,” Kraft said.
Southern Power, another Georgia Power affiliate, announced on Wednesday, June 24, 2015, that its commitment to develop renewable generation has surpassed 400 megawatts (MW) in the State of Georgia with the acquisition of the 20-MW Butler Solar Farm from Strata Solar.