ATLANTA — Georgia Power filed Wednesday seeking permission from state regulators to more than triple the amount of solar power it uses to generate electricity for its 2.4 million customers by swapping it for what was already planned from other renewable sources.
The giant utility’s request to buy 210 megawatts of electricity was applauded by solar advocates.
The solar capacity will serve roughly 26,000 homes – less than one-tenth of what the two new nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle will produce.
The company is hailing its plan as a major achievement.
“Overall we’re excited about this new program because it will make Georgia a national leader among states where there is no solar mandate,” said Mike Hazelton, Georgia Power’s vice president of marketing.
Other states that have mandated a set percentage of energy that must come from solar sources have had to boost the rates customers pay to do it, he said. The Georgia Power plan won’t affect rates because it is based on paying the solar providers what it would have paid the biomass provider, 13 cents per kilowatt hour, which is already figured into customer’s rates.
Because the Public Service Commission has already given it the OK for the 210 megawatts in added capacity and set customer rates, Georgia Power officials hope for a quick approval.
“This is a good first step toward increasing Georgia’s solar infrastructure,” said Jessica Moore, the executive director of the Georgia Solar Energy Association.
Georgia Power’s plan is to buy no more than 20 megawatts from any one supplier and to purchase 10 megawatts of so-called distributed power in new contracts each of the next three years from homeowners or property owners looking to make a little money from their roof space.
“The program announced today offers a very limited program for homeowners and business owners to install solar on their own roofs,” said Rhone Resch, the president and CEO of the national Solar Energy Industries Association. “Distributed solar must be allowed to grow at a rate higher than 10 megawatts per year in order to create a truly sustainable market and jobs across the state.”
The solar association has lobbied for a different arrangement that would allow property owners to rent their roofs to solar companies, which would sell the power back to them and then market any extra to Georgia Power or neighboring homes. Georgia Power opposes changing the law to allow that.
Greg Roberts, the utility’s vice president of pricing and planning, said a 20-year contract to buy the electricity is something a property owner can take to a bank for the loan needed to install the rooftop panels.
“If they’ve got a basically guaranteed stream of payments from a very creditworthy customer, Georgia Power, we think that will get them a long way toward getting financing,” he said.
Last week, a start-up solar company filed papers with the PSC to become a utility and compete with Georgia Power to sell to retail customers statewide. It wants to build about 10 times as much solar capacity as Georgia Power proposed Wednesday.