Bill Would Promote Solar Power in Georgia by Breaking Utility’s Monopoly


(APN) ATLANTA — Senate Bill 401 is a new, bipartisan bill introduced in Georgia’s State Senate would encourage private investment in solar power, stimulate the economic growth of Georgia, and enhance the continued diversification of the energy resources.

The bill would overturn two existing laws which are standing in the way of meaningful development of solar power alternatives in Georgia.

As reported earlier by Atlanta Progressive News, the 1973 Georgia Territorial Electric Service Act makes it illegal for anybody but Georgia Power to sell electricity to a Georgia home or business.  It also prevents anyone who buys solar panels or any other form of energy generation from selling their excess energy to anyone except Georgia Power.  

This means business and homeowners cannot enter into an arrangement–called a power purchase agreement–to lease solar panels from a solar company and pay the solar company for their energy usage like they do in most other states.  This presents an obstacle for many people and businesses to put solar panels on their roofs, because it can be cost-prohibitive to buy the solar panels outright.  In addition, it reduces the incentive to make the investment because the excess energy cannot be sold to anyone but Georgia Power, which limits its solar energy purchases.

A second law standing in the way of renewable energy is the Georgia Cogeneration and Distributed Generation Act of 2001, which restricts the size of investments in renewable energy.  Currently it is limited to 10kw for residential customers and 100kw for business customers.  SB 410 removes those limits.

SB 410 is co-sponsored by State Sens. Buddy Carter (R-Pooler), Ronnie Chance (R-Tyrone), Jason Carter (D-Decatur), Tommie Williams (R-Lyons), Chip Rogers (R-Woodstock), and Doug Stoner (D-Smyrna).   The bill is assigned to the Natural Resources and Environmental Committee.

Georgia Power opposes the bill but solar companies, environmental groups, anti-nuclear groups, and many businesses and homeowners support the bill.  

The inability of Georgians to pursue meaningful solar energy development compounds its continued dependence on dirty, polluting, unhealthy, and unsafe energy sources like coal and nuclear power.  Recently, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved two new nuclear reactors at Georgia’s Plant Vogtle, the first approvals of their kind in decades, although the NRC decision still faces legal challenges..

Lynn Wallace, media relations person for Georgia Power, told APN that SB 401 would lead to higher rates.   “Georgia Power has an obligation to serve all the customers and when the sun does not shine, solar is not available; then other customers will subsidize solar and shoulder more of the infrastructure maintenance costs,” Wallace said.

But solar advocates argued that Georgia Power’s stated objections were a mere pretext for their real objections.

“For a consumer to pick their own way to generate and deliver energy, to be sometimes disconnected from the grid, could be considered threatening to Southern Company’s financial model where the taxpayer is required to pay for the next power plant,” Patrick Thompson, a small business owner of solar energy in Woodstock, Georgia, said in a press release.

SB 401 is “a way we could all afford to install solar or wind at our homes and immediately reap the benefit of less expensive power.  Of course, Georgia Power sees the writing on the wall.  It’s competition they don’t want.  The people of Georgia are tired of waiting on Georgia Power to go clean.  We deserve the freedom to do it ourselves,” Claudia Collier, a clean energy advocate from Effingham County, Georgia, told APN.

Others disagree that solar power will force Georgia Power to raise rates, and instead believe Georgia Power’s nuclear and coal plants will cause rates to go up.  

“If we continue down the road we are going now, getting oil and gas out of shale and rock is expensive and we know that nuclear is not only expensive, but unpredictably expensive,” Collier said.  Vogtle’s initial two nuclear power reactors went 1,200 percent over budget.

“It’s a bill that needs full disclosure and full understanding by the members of the Senate,” State Sen. Ross Tolleson (R-Perry), Chairman of the Natural Resources and Environment Committee, told APN in an interview.  

“They don’t need to be voting on something that they really don’t know the complete impact it could have to consumers on their electric bills across the state.  I don’t see it being voted on this session.  I see us having more hearings during the year to fully vet the total impact of the bill.   I think it will have an impact of higher prices on the utility bills over time.  I don’t think the people want that but we will hear all the facts and understand it first,” Tolleson said, adding SB 401 will have a hearing next Wednesday, February 29, 2012.

Tolleson seems to have a similar position as Georgia Power.

It is speculated in the halls of the Gold Dome that the Natural Resources and Environment Committee got the bill because they are more easily controlled and there are those in the Committee who want to continue a good relationship with Georgia Power and the benefits that brings.

In contrast, Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers told APN, “SB 401 is good public policy.  If people want to use solar energy then we need to make it as available to them as we possibility can.  I think some of the restrictions on solar energy now are antiquated and this is really an area of energy production we should be expanding not limiting.”

“I’m in favor of creating third party ownership of power purchase agreements, so people can have freedom of choice with their roofs and land.  It is something that is available in 45 states and not something that will drastically impact rates.  Basically people would off-set a proportion of their electric use with solar,” James Marlow, CEO of Rediance Solar, told APN.

Meanwhile, yesterday, the Subcommittee Two of the House Judiciary Civil Committee, heard testimony on a bill by State Rep. Karla Drenner (D-Avondale Estates), HB 961, that would “prohibit property owners’ associations from creating or enforcing covenants which infringe upon a lot owner’s right to install a solar energy device.”

Marlow brought a sample solar panel to the hearing and let the legislators look at it and touch it.  Marlow compared solar panels to cable satellite dishes, in that they used to be large and cumbersome and perhaps a bit ugly.  Today’s solar panels can be small, black rectangles that fit right on the roof of a house or business unobtrusively.

Subcommittee Chairman Mike Jacobs (R-DeKalb) said Drenner’s bill will come up for a vote this Friday, February 24, 2012.


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