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'Green' bills advance in Ga. Legislature

Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2012 1:14 PM
Last updated 7:43 PM
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ATLANTA — The House Energy Subcommittee gave a green light Wednesday to a bill boosting the amount of solar energy Georgia Power Company can buy tenfold and a measure designed to help cities reduce their energy usage.

Since both bills are sponsored by the chairman of the full Energy, Utilities & Telecommunications Committee, it’s likely they’ll get approved at that level and head to a House vote in the next six legislative days.

Rep. Don Parsons, R-Marietta, said he drafted House Bill 520 to raise Georgia Power’s solar maximum to send a message.

“It shows that we in the state of Georgia take alternative energy seriously,” he said.

The company uses less than the current maximum, and the bill doesn’t require the giant utility to buy more solar power. That upper limit is now set at 0.2 percent of the company’s peak usage from the previous year. Parson’s bill raises that to 2.5 percent.

Georgia Power must purchase power generated by its customers which it then markets as Green Power at a premium. It is also developing its own solar systems around the state.

Parsons said few consumers know Green Power is available and that the company should advertise it more.

“I don’t have solar panels. I wish I did,” he said. “I wish I had the money to put them on.”

A separate bill, Senate Bill 401, might help property owners like him. It is being hailed by solar-energy enthusiasts because it would allow companies other than Georgia Power to sell solar power directly to consumers. They could install panels on the roof of a home, school or commercial building and sell the electricity to the building owner, something not allowed under current law.

The utility and the state’s electric cooperatives oppose the Senate proposal, but none objected to Parson’s bills during the subcommittee meeting.

The subcommittee also approved House Bill 934 that seeks to help cities to take advantage of energy savings. It makes wording changes to a law that resulted from a constitutional amendment that won overwhelming support from voters in 2010.

That amendment allows governments to make long-term agreements with contractors who will install building modifications that would be paid for from the eventual energy savings, essentially resulting in reduced power consumption at no additional cost to taxpayers.

HB 934 clarifies wording that had confused cities because the existing law copied what was enacted in another state with a different government structure, according to Ashley Meggit, lobbyist for the Georgia Municipal Association. For example, the bill would add consolidated cities that were not mentioned originally.

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