Georgia Power objections cast long shadow over state lawmakers’ efforts to expand solar energy

Georgia Power sign at Plant McDonough-Atkinson in Cobb County accompanying article about restory powerGeorgia Power sign at Plant McDonough-Atkinson in Cobb County (photo by Larry Felton Johnson)

by Jill Nolin, Georgia Recorder [This article first appeared in the Georgia Recorder, republished with permission]


February 19, 2024

A push to expand community solar in Georgia is running into opposition from the state’s largest electric utility, which has been under pressure in recent years to increase rooftop solar.

Proposals filed in both chambers have sparked interest at the committee level, with those talks set to continue this week. But a key deadline for legislation to pass out of at least one chamber is quickly approaching. 

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“Let’s show the rest of the world why Georgia is still the No. 1 place to do business, and we simply can’t do that without more affordable energy,” one of the sponsors, Dallas Republican Sen. Jason Anavitarte, said to his colleagues.

A similar House version is getting attention, too, and is back up for discussion Monday.

The House bill’s sponsor, Concord Republican Rep. Beth Camp, said large-scale solar operations are not appealing in her district, but small-scale projects like what is envisioned under the bill are.

“There are people that want to do this,” she said.  

The proposals would allow developers to participate in a community solar program under the state Public Service Commission and let them build small solar arrays on Georgia Power’s turf. Utility customers would be able to subscribe for a portion of the generation output and receive a credit on their electricity bill.

Proponents argue the program would drive down rates overall at a time when the cost of being a Georgia Power customer is on the rise while boosting clean energy access to more Georgians.

“Real community solar is an essential part of the solar-for-all puzzle in Georgia,” said Jennette Gayer, who is state director for advocacy group Environment Georgia. “So many people in Georgia miss out on solar’s benefits because they are renters or their roof is too shady.”

The Environment Georgia Research and Policy Center released a report last week that says Georgia now produces enough energy from small- and medium- sized rooftop scale solar arrays to power about 36,000 homes. But the state is running in the middle of the pack when it comes to growth of small-scale solar over the last decade.

Georgia Power has a popular “net metering” rooftop solar program that is limited to 5,000 households.

Supporters of the so-called “homegrown solar act” also cite Georgia Power’s disclosure last year that the utility expects an energy shortfall as the state continues to roll out economic development projects. The utility has proposed generating much of the power needed through fossil fuel sources.

“We’re trying to help with the energy crisis, candidly,” said Steve Butler, a spokesman for the Georgia Solar Energy Industries Association. “This is something our state could use right now and as quick as possible, but we understand that there’s going to be traditional things that we’re kind of infringing upon. And that’s really the problem. This has worked extremely well all over the country. It’s really tradition that we’re fighting here today.”

But representatives from Georgia Power countered that the proposal would shift costs to other users.

“This is a solution in search of a problem. Our renewable growth is the envy of the United States,” said Wilson Mallard, director of renewable development at Georgia Power. Mallard said the utility is “adamantly opposed to this bill.”

A representative of the Public Service Commission also says the regulatory body also has concerns and says the program is likely to cause confusion among ratepayers.

“When first discussed this bill only included nonprofits, churches and government entities, but as written it potentially includes almost 2.8 million Georgia Power customers,” said Reece McAlister, the commission’s executive director.

But Bob Sherrier, staff attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, said there would be safeguards in place to prevent costs from shifting. The Public Service Commission, which regulates Georgia Power, would set the bill credit amount for customers, as it regularly does in rate cases.

“If Georgia Power can show with evidence in a hearing in front of the commission that there is some shifting of costs between customer classes, then this permits them to impose fees for that actual cost,” Sherrier said. 

Crossover Day, when a bill must clear at least one chamber to have a smooth path to the governor’s desk, is Feb. 29. 

Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Georgia Recorder maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John McCosh for questions: info@georgiarecorder.com. Follow Georgia Recorder on Facebook and Twitter.

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