Solar bill may not grant monopoly

Thursday, March 28, 2013 11:44 AM
Last updated 6:50 PM
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ATLANTA – The author of a solar-monopoly bill said Thursday that the final version next year could change to give consumers a choice of solar-energy providers.

“I don’t think the legislature is going to give anybody a monopoly if they can keep from it,” said Rep. Rusty Kidd, an independent from Milledgeville. “The company we’re involved with now is driving the train and will always be driving the train, but I’m sure that when the process works out, that if there are other local providers out there that want to participate in the process, they’re more than welcome to join in.”

Tuesday, Kidd introduced House Bill 657 and said its current draft would create a monopoly because a single company approached him about the concept, Middle Georgia-based Georgia Solar Utilities Inc.

“The legislation right now alludes to only one provider because they’re the ones that brought this to us. They’re the ones that currently are in Georgia. They’re the ones currently working with the Public Service Commission,” he said. “So, why shouldn’t their name be primary right now?”

Georgia Solar Utilities President Robert Green argues that only with a utility-sized monopoly can a solar-power provider grow large enough to achieve savings through what experts call economies of scale and generate electricity at prices comparable to, or less than, conventional power companies.

Two of the three-member majority of the Public Service Commission supporting Green’s concept met briefly with reporters Thursday to explain their reasoning.

“We’ve got to keep an open mind about this,” said Commissioner Tim Echols. “…No longer is solar looked at as some oddball technology. I had solar panels on my home in Athens.”

Commissioner Lauren “Bubba” McDonald explained that he was in the Legislature 40 years ago when it passed the current law establishing monopolies for nearly 100 electric utilities in territories across the state, the largest being for Georgia Power Co. Kidd’s bill would amend that law which McDonald said “was a bloody battle” at the time.

McDonald said technological breakthroughs in the last two years have lowered the cost of solar panels enough to change that 40-year-old equation to give consumers a choice for solar even if entrenched interests will resist.

“This is not going to be a snap-to thing. It’s going to require some input, output, arguing, fussing and maybe even some crying sometimes,” he said.


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