Georgia politicians jump on 'solar' bandwagon

ATLANTA -- In a matter of days, political candidates and private companies have started jockeying to see which is the most supportive of solar energy.

Thursday, Democratic challenger Steve Oppenheimer attacked Republican Public Service Commissioner Chuck Eaton, his opponent, for being a Johnny-come-lately because Eaton is backing a proposal Georgia Power Co. filed the day before. The giant utility is seeking commission approval to issue limited-size contracts for solar power instead of the biomass it was already authorized to use because the biomass producer backed out.

Eaton trumpeted Georgia Power’s plan, saying he had helped shape it so that customer rates would not increase.

“The Georgia Public Service Commission has been unduly criticized by special interests and others with radical ‘solar first’ political agendas for not developing solar capacity on a timeline that satisfies their liberal ideological desires,” he said. “Until now, the cost of solar power was not competitive without taxpayer or ratepayer subsidies to politically connected solar firms like Solyndra.”

Solyndra was a company that made solar panels and came under national attention when it went bankrupt after getting large loans from the Obama administration.

The challenger accused Eaton of a “battlefield conversion” to solar six weeks before their election when it had become economically viable long before, according to Oppenheimer. Where was the commissioner’s concern for customers when he voted 10 times to raise their utility rates, he asked.

“What is best for Georgia, a politician who only supports something when the polls say he should, or a representative who works for Georgia families full time?” Oppenheimer asked.

At the same time, a start-up corporation that wants to compete with Georgia Power Co. issued its own criticisms Thursday.

Shane Owl-Greason, co-founder of Georgia Solar Utilities Inc., said his company’s approach is better for customers.

“GaSU’s plan puts ratepayers first, builds a solid path for rate reductions and does not compromise the profits of the incumbent utilities,” he said.

GaSU plans to share its profits with customers after paying Georgia Power to use its wires.

Meanwhile, Georgia Power executives said GaSU should shrink its sights to one-tenth of what the start-up plans and instead of competing, it should simply supply the existing utility which would remain a monopoly. After all, said Georgia Power’s Greg Roberts, vice president of pricing and planning, a bigger solar installation like GaSU plans won’t operate any cheaper than a small one.

“There’s not much more economies of scale to it above 20 megawatts,” Roberts said.

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