Middle Ga. 'solar farm' might offer new power source

Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2012 7:07 AM
Last updated 7:03 PM
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ATLANTA -- A proposal from a start-up business promises to lower electricity rates by rebating profits to customers if it is given a chance to compete as Georgia Power Co.’s “mirror image.”

To proceed with its long-range plan of developing 2 gigawatts of solar power, the start-up, Georgia Solar Utilities Inc., wants to start by building an 80-megawatt “solar farm” near Milledgeville as soon as it gets a green light from the Georgia Public Service Commission. GaSU filed its request last week, and as of Monday, it’s still too fresh for public evaluation.

So radical is the proposal that spokespersons for Georgia Power and the Georgia Solar Energy Association said they were still evaluating it and could not comment. Groups that normally advocate for customers are also being quiet.

GaSU executives recognize such a big change won’t come easily.

“There are obstacles. There’s no question there are obstacles, but you have to look at the rewards,” GaSU President Robert E. Green said at a Capitol news conference. “We don’t know what it’s going to take, but we are prepared to go through legislative action if necessary.”

Legislative action is indeed likely to be necessary, according to observers. A 40-year-old law divides the state up and gives regional monopolies to Georgia Power, the electric-membership cooperatives and nearly 50 cities.

Anyone familiar with the nasty fights that were frequent before the law’s passage tends to be reluctant to open it up to changes. That was the reaction last year to legislation sponsored by Sen. Buddy Carter, R-Pooler, that sought to alter the law so that other companies could sell solar power in small batches to customers who make their roofs available as sites for solar panels through purchased-power agreements.

All five members of the Public Service Commission have called for more renewable energy. Two of them, David Everett and Lauren “Bubba” McDonald attended last week’s GaSU press conference but said they were not prejudging its proposal.

Commissioner Chuck Eaton issued a press release saying he had been working with Georgia Power on a proposal for expanded solar that meets his requirement of not boosting customers’ rates. The giant utility is expected to release details soon.

“That’s one of the big things we’re trying to do is work that out so it doesn’t put that upward pressure on rates,” said Georgia Power spokesman John Kraft.

GaSU could build its solar farm without action by the legislature or the PSC, and existing federal law would require Georgia Power to buy its electricity. But it would only pay GaSU an amount equal to what it could buy electricity from its cheapest, wholesale supplier.

The start-up wants instead to sell its electricity directly to retail customers who would be billed by Georgia Power or the other existing utilities, similar to how natural gas is marketed here. GaSU would pay the utilities for the use of their wires in the electric grid and any profits would be shared with customers like a cooperative.

Because GaSU has no aging power plants and wouldn’t have to buy coal or gas as fuel to generate its electricity, its executives figure it could be profitable charging lower rates. It would make use of the federal investment-tax credit but expects to need no other subsidy.

How the PSC acts remains to be seen, whether it supports Georgia Power’s unseen plan or GaSU’s proposal.

As has been noted by solar advocates, Georgia is among the states with the most untapped potential.

“GaSU also thinks that because solar is a new technology with new effects on ratepayers, there are good reasons for the GA PSC to consolidate its development into a single company that is a mirror image of (Georgia Power) and is afforded the protection of the (a monopoly utility,)” noted the company’s formal PSC petition.

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Little Lamb
Little Lamb 09/25/12 - 08:19 am
Can anyone say Solyndra?

Here's a Solyndra wannabee.

What they are proposing is to be an independent power producer. There are a few in the state and hundreds around the country. But the rest of them follow the law. These guys want to change the law to something tailor-made to fit them, but no one else. It's wrong.

If you want to make electricity, then follow the law. Sell your electricity wholesale to the legal retailers. That's the way it works in Georgia.

Bantana 09/25/12 - 09:10 am
That may be the way business

That may be the way business was done in the past, but we have to be looking forward. And it's no surprise that Solyndra would be brought up. The history of innovation is one of successes and failures. If we don't try, we don't progress. I don't expect the state politicos to go along with this initiative without public pressure when knowing of the river of liquor and bbq the Southern Company lays on throughout the year for elected officials. Our state decision makers are so easily "bought".

resident 09/25/12 - 09:37 am
Purchased Service Commission

This is not public servcice it is purchased policians. Southern company got away with the nuclear plant and certainly wants to squash this competition so they can continue to overcharge for their overpaid executive bonuses. Solar energy is needed and it is also so easy to set up here in the south. I have been to places around the world where they placed small solar cell farms in fields along side vineyards, on top of buildings and have them set up as grid attached so they power facilities they are located on and the excess is simply added to the grid. The public school systems could/should be doing this right now with every new building but they won't because of the crooked Georgia Power monopoly and they have regulated everything and forced systems to ignore good ideas that save money to support this stupid monopoly. Money savings can be had with solar with a little bit of effort but there is nobody willing to do their elected job and SERVICE THE PUBLIC as they should because then they would be booted from office and loose their kickbacks of unlimited loby money!

Local Interests
Local Interests 09/25/12 - 09:51 am
Solyndra is GOP red herring

Georgia needs to quit blaming the federal government and pull itself up by its own bootstraps. Solar power is incredibly obvious. State lawmakers should act like they talk and remove regulations dis-allowing healthy competition in the energy markets. It is good for energy rates and good for Georgia residents. Oh, and incidentally, it is good for the environment and for moving toward energy independence.

Insider Information
Insider Information 09/25/12 - 10:57 am
I'm all for it if it doesn't

I'm all for it if it doesn't involve my money. We don't need to get Solyndra-ized again.

And, by the way, don't fool yourself. "Green energy" is all about the green in your wallet and not about some myth about saving the planet.

David Parker
David Parker 09/25/12 - 12:32 pm
If you can fry an egg one of

If you can fry an egg one of the green electric transformers 3 months out of the year, why waste all that energy? If they don't want GaSU to dip into the revenue potential, just develop it yourself.

@Ga Power

Little Lamb
Little Lamb 09/25/12 - 04:54 pm
Too Simplistic

Once GaSU's electrons get put into Georgia Power's grid, you lose control of the electrons. They get blended in to Ga. Power's electrons. How would Ga. Power know how much to charge a customer when they get some GaSU electrons and some of Ga. Power's electrons?

Techfan 09/26/12 - 03:33 am
"These guys want to change

"These guys want to change the law to something tailor-made to fit them," See: Southern Company. They didn't use 77 lobbyists on Ga. SB-31 over Plant Vogtle as a community outreach program for unemployed lobbyists. Especially interesting since we only have 56 State Senators.

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