Solar advocates and clean energy industry representatives are speaking-out against House Bill 479 in Georgia. If passed, the bill would prohibit the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) from making changes and recommendations to Georgia Power’s long-term integrated resource plan (IRP) and hinder the commission’s ability to regulate the utility’s plans to invest in future renewable energy development.
“Taking away the commission’s authority to shape energy planning would hand decision-making entirely over to the utility, with disastrous consequences for customers,” said Kurt Ebersbach from the Southern Environmental Law Center. “The PSC is charged with balancing multiple stakeholder interests and making the best overall decision, not merely the one favored by the monopoly utility. The PSC’s leadership in adding low-cost solar resources has already resulted in $1 billion in savings for Georgia Power customers–savings that wouldn’t have happened without a vigorous and engaged PSC.”
Indeed, the cost of solar in Georgia decreased 64 percent over the last five-years, according to SEIA. That’s thanks in part to recent legislation, including the passage of the Solar Power Free-Market Financing Act in 2015, which allowed third-party ownership and financing of rooftop and utility-scale solar projects, Georgia’s solar industry has expanded quickly.
Since then solar industry has grown rapidly in Georgia. For instance, it was ranked third in the US for solar development in 2016 by Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), Georgia made significant progress during the last two years by installing 1,000 megawatts of its total 1,409 megawatts and it is projected to add 2,273 megawatts over the next five years.
GPSC Commissioner Lauren McDonald argued that the expansion of the solar sector in the state over the last couple of years has taken place without upward pressure on rates. “If this bill had been law in 2013, there would be no solar power in Georgia Power’s portfolio. If this bill had been law in 2016, we would not have the addition of 1,200 megawatts (MW) of solar and 300 MW of wind procured at no upward pressure on rates,” said McDonald.
Solar advocates have criticized Georgia Power for raising rates, attempting to implement demand charges and creating a monopoly-like environment which made it impossible for competing solar providers from entering the state’s market. Without the PSC oversight of Georgia Power’s IRP, it is questionable if the utility would have added 848 megawatts of solar since 2013 and introduced programs like its Simple Solar subscription plan at the beginning of this year.
“The progress we’ve made on solar is the result of a partnership between the PSC, Georgia Power, and the solar industry. If you take the Commission’s policy role out of the equation, we are probably going to see less solar in the future,” said Jason Rooks of the Georgia Solar Energy Industries Association told.