Milledgeville rep sees solar sunrise in Georgia

mlee@macon.comMarch 25, 2013 

ATLANTA -- The “beginnings of cheaper energy” are dawning in Georgia, state Rep. Rusty Kidd said Monday as he introduced a solar energy bill.

House Bill 657 would allow private companies to set up solar farms and feed their energy into Georgia Power’s grid. The power company would retail that power at the same price it does for the energy coming from its plants.

Kidd, I-Milledgeville, is aiming for a setup he said could make the Plant Branch property in Putnam County attractive as a solar farm as it eases toward shutting off the furnaces there in 2015.

The eventual payoff, Kidd said, would be lower power bills as the price of coal and gas rise and the price of sunshine remains zero.

State Rep. Carol Fullerton, a Democrat from Albany, co-sponsored the bill along with three Republicans and two Democrats.

As coal-burning plants have to clean up or close, Fullerton said, “we just have to look toward the future.” She predicted people “will be calling their power company and their elected officials to be getting them thinking about solar.”

Companies such as Macon’s Georgia Solar Utilities support the bill.

“Solar is a matured technology, an extremely reliable technology and needs to be tapped in this state for the value it brings to us,” said Georgia Solar Utilities President Robert Green. Last year, his company asked Georgia Power’s regulator, the Public Service Commission, to break Georgia Power’s monopoly on power generation and allow him to sell to customers. The commission declined.

Technically, HB 657 asks the PSC to have Georgia Power put a check box on homeowners’ bills, asking them if they want to opt into solar power.

That demand, Green predicted, would be strong enough to attract investors into corporate bonds to bankroll big solar builds, driving down the cost.

Then the PSC would choose so-called “community solar providers” and grant them a regulated monopoly over solar in a given area, exactly as Georgia Power has an electricity provision monopoly in a rather large given area.

Georgia Power has been unenthusiastic about solar, but Kidd said he thinks the utility would rather not build another pricey Plant Vogtle, a reference to the nuclear plant expansion near Augusta.

“They like for you to be able to flip that switch and get that power as cheaply as possible,” Kidd said.

The utility is focused primarily on its Georgia Power Advanced Solar Initiative, Southern Co. spokesman John Kraft said in a written statement.

The GPASI is buying up to 45 MW of power from small and medium solar producers in 2013 and 2014.

Their solar initiative, he wrote, “will give Georgia one of the largest voluntary solar generation resources in the nation without creating additional upward cost pressure on our customers.”

Green said solar is the economical choice: “Physics tells me real quick if they got to burn something and we don’t, we’re going to win this race,” he said. Indeed, last year he asked the PSC for permission to build 80 MW of solar capacity, as the first step in a 500 MW project.

The bill only applies to Georgia Power, not electric membership corporations or municipal power companies.

It’s too late in the annual legislative session to pass the bill this year, but Kidd made the common move of filing it late in order to use the remainder of the year, working with other stakeholders, to refine the bill.

If Kidd and his allies get traction, hearings could begin next January.

To contact writer Maggie Lee, e-mail mlee@macon.com

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