Solar energy meeting follows PSC ruling that Ga. Power significantly expand its solar portfolio

By David Pendered

Now that Georgia’s utility regulator has authorized the additional development of solar power in the state, attention is turning to questions of how that power will be governed.

Apple is building this 100-acre solar farm outside its data center in Maiden, N.C. The farm is thought to be the largest of its kind in the country. Credit: appleinsider.com

Apple is building this 100-acre solar farm outside its data center in Maiden, N.C. The farm is thought to be the largest of its kind in the country. Credit: appleinsider.com

In less than a year, Georgia’s Public Service Commission has approved 735 megawatts through solar power arrays. Georgia Power voluntarily provided the first 210 megawatts that was approved last winter. The PSC voted last week to require the additional 525 megawatts as part of a broader Georgia Power docket.

The solar expansion happens to have come to a head just as the Georgia Solar Energy Association hosts a forum on Thursday in Atlanta. The featured speaker is coming from North Carolina, where there was a movement this year to roll back some of the state’s significant goals for producing renewable energy.

In a 3-2 vote on a motion by PSC Commissioner Bubba McDonald, the PSC ruled July 11 that Georgia Power bring 260 megawatts online by 2015. The additional 265 megawatts is to be available by 2016.

Of the total amount, 100 megawatts is to be provided by distributed generation, which includes rooftop solar arrays that appear on some homes and an increasing number of businesses. For example, an IKEA distribution center near the Savannah port has a rooftop solar array capable of generating 1.5 megawatts.

The remaining 425 megawatts approved by the PSC will be utility scale solar and require competitive bidding. Utility generation is along the magnitude of a solar plant being developed in western North Carolina, near the town of Maiden.

The GSEA, a non-profit that endorses market-based solar policies, strongly endorsed the PSC vote to expand solar power.

“We believe this vote shows the PSC, as Georgia’s utility regulator of record, is leading us to a better, more robust and economically valuable future with Georgia’s solar potential reflected in its energy portfolio and we thank them for their foresight,” GSEA Chairman Mark Bell said in a statement. “There are additional policy updates that we believe can do even more to enhance our solar development capability.”

Mark Bell, GSEA chairman

Mark Bell, GSEA chairman

Bell is slated to address the GSEA forum along with Betsy McCorkle, government affairs director for the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association. North Carolina got into the solar business in 1981, under the leadership of then Gov. Jim Hunt.

North Carolina has a record of supporting solar energy research for the past 25 years at North Carolina State University. The N.C. Solar Center, which is housed in the NCSU College of Engineering, receives direct funding from the state legislature and additional funding from various federal, state and private research grants.

In Georgia, the politics of solar power are evident in the statements by commissioners that are included in a release from the PSC following the July 11 vote.

Commissioner Tim Echols, who voted for the motion, said: “Commissioner McDonald’s motion adding 525 megawatts of solar to our 20-year energy plan is a hedge against more coal regulation and natural gas price volatility. When the President finishes his war on coal, he’ll come after fracking, and gas prices will surely go up. We have to be ready.”

Commissioner Stan Wise succeeded with his amendment that prohibits Georgia Power from accepting any bids for delivering power that will have the effect of raising rates charged to consumers, and requires Georgia Power to use an independent evaluator in the bid process.

Commissioner Doug Everett viewed Wise’s amendments as adequate to protect against higher energy costs, and voted to support the motion, according to the PSC statement.

 

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

5 comments
Allen Strickland
Allen Strickland

Who would I get in touch with to find out about clearing land for solar panels in Southeast Georgia?

Wishing for Milton County
Wishing for Milton County

I see a picture of a 100 acre solar array in North Carolina.  Where are all the environmetalist who are oppesed to cutting down trees.  Seems this solar array will lay bare 100 acres of land.  Nothing can grow on it.  

Oh wait,  this is a prime example of environmental hypocrisy.  Can't cut down trees to make paper or paper bags, or cardboard or lumber.  The trees can be replanted and a forrest reappear.  But we can cut down the trees, put solar panels in their place and "ALL IS AT PIECE WITH THE WORLD".  Yet the land is scared, left barren and will turn to dust.  Hypocritical? I say so.

Apple is a private company so it can do this I guess.  But Georgia Power's rates are controlled by a "PUBLIC SERVICE COMMISSION" whose main purpose it to maintain a "CHEAP" and plentiful electrial power supply.

Solar Power is expensive, does not work at night, does not work in the rain, does not work on a cloudy day.  Forcing Georgia Power to do this will come back as a rate increase.  Which means the electricity gets more expensive, the supply is less, and the means to make it is unstable.

So all those wanting manufacturing jobs - just keep making the electricity that powers those jobs more expensive and watch those jobs go back overseas to countres (China, India) that don't care to much about anything else beside making money!

My question to all is - How much of a pristine environment do you want.  Versus how many jobs to you want for future generations?  

We are at the point of less return on the environmental side and more loss of jobs.  Technology will help in time.  But now we need jobs to boost the economy, so we can pay for "RESEARCH" into the technology of the future.


moliere
moliere

@Wish for MIlton County Look my right wing friend. Cease looking at this as an environmental issue and start looking at this as a JOBS and ECONOMIC GROWTH and NEW TECHNOLOGY issue. 

"But Georgia Power's rates are controlled by a "PUBLIC SERVICE COMMISSION" whose main purpose it to maintain a "CHEAP" and plentiful electrial power supply."

So approving those nuclear power reactors with their billions of cost overruns that get passed onto the customer accomplishes this how? The only reason to support solar and not nuclear is because the environmentalists love the former and hate the latter. 

"Technology will help in time.  But now we need jobs to boost the economy, so we can pay for "RESEARCH" into the technology of the future"

That is the problem. Conservatives oppose funding solar and other alternative energy research. They (falsely) claim that the private sector should do it all (when the private sector never has ... it was done by our NASA, DOD, DOE, NSF research projects) knowing full well that oil, gas and coal companies aren't going to spend a cent on alternative energy. So it is a double bind: we say that we can't implement alternative energy because it isn't viable then we turn around and deny the research funding needed to make it viable. 

"So all those wanting manufacturing jobs - just keep making the electricity that powers those jobs more expensive and watch those jobs go back overseas to countres (China, India) that don't care to much about anything else beside making money!"

That is a myth. We don't lose any manufacturing jobs because of slightly increased electricity costs. If that was the case, why aren't we booming with manufacturing jobs now since our electricity is cheaper than most other states? We lose manufacturing jobs because of higher wages because the standard of living is so much lower in developing countries than it is here. Where a skilled manufacturing worker demands $75,000 a year here, in a developing economy they'd be thrilled to do the same work for $20,000 a year. 

Look, it is worth it to pay more money for alternative energy if it generates jobs here. Sticking with the fossil fuels generates jobs in Texas, South Dakota and West Virginia. Of course the politicians from those states and the conservative mouthpieces in the think tanks and talk radio who get big checks from those energy companies want you to stick with fossil fuels because it keeps the jobs and money in the economy of those states. But if we can generate 100,000 jobs (for example) in our state using alternative energy, then yes that is worth paying more for energy. That is 100,000 high paying jobs that can support 100,000 families which means 100,000 homes, 200,000 cars, kids in private school and college, trips to the mall and restaurants etc. 

Really, this shows how the conservative crowd needs to work on their basic economics. Take your average small city like Macon or Columbus or Savannah and put 100,000 high paying jobs there. It would totally transform the economy of that culture and city right? But go to that same city and cut their power bill by 10%. It wouldn't do squat. It wouldn't attract a single business or employer. It would only result in existing families paying $180 a month on their power bill instead of $200, and the existing companies paying $18,000 a month on the power bill instead of $20,000. 

Georgia has a good deal of potential for alternative energy. You have solar, you have biomass and biofuels, you have wind farms, you name it. Every job that we create in our state via alternative energy is a win for our state. If you would stop listening to the bought and paid for by the fossil fuel companies shills on talk radio and on the "conservative" websites and on Fox News, you would realize that. Don't think about it as being good for the environment. Think about it as being good for our economy, especially for outside metro Atlanta. Nearly all the family farms in south and middle Georgia are gone because they can't compete with the efficiency and industrialization of corporate farms (plus our Department of Agriculture policy, stuff like the farm bill that just passed, makes it hard for the family farms to compete with the corporate farms too). So you have all that unused farmland just sitting there, not generating any jobs or any revenue. 

I know because I am originally from that part of the state and still have family down there. It is just empty fields full of weeds where cotton, peanut, soybean, corn etc. fields used to be. Now I support drill baby drill and frack baby frack and even relaxing some of the coal regulations, but that won't put those folks in South Georgia back to work. But building and maintaining solar arrays on those empty family farms would, and folks down that way need jobs more than they need electricity bills made artificially cheap by our Georgia Power monopoly that would keep solar and other alternative startups out of this state even if it was cheap and viable. If you would unplug yourself from that right wing echo chamber long enough and acknowledge basic economics you would realize that.

Wish for MIlton County
Wish for MIlton County

I see a picture of a 100 acre solar array in North Carolina.  Where are all the environmetalist who are oppesed to cutting down trees.  Seems this solar array will lay bare 100 acres of land.  Nothing can grow on it.   Oh wait,  this is a prime example of environmental hypocrisy.  Can't cut down trees to make paper or paper bags, or cardboard or lumber.  The trees can be replanted and a forrest reappear.  But we can cut down the trees, put solar panels in their place and "ALL IS AT PIECE WITH THE WORLD".  Yet the land is scared, left barren and will turn to dust.  Hypocritical? I say so. Apple is a private company so it can do this I guess.  But Georgia Power's rates are controlled by a "PUBLIC SERVICE COMMISSION" whose main purpose it to maintain a "CHEAP" and plentiful electrial power supply. Solar Power is expensive, does not work at night, does not work in the rain, does not work on a cloudy day.  Forcing Georgia Power to do this will come back as a rate increase.  Which means the electricity gets more expensive, the supply is less, and the means to make it is unstable. So all those wanting manufacturing jobs - just keep making the electricity that powers those jobs more expensive and watch those jobs go back overseas to countres (China, India) that don't care to much about anything else beside making money! My question to all is - How much of a pristine environment do you want.  Versus how many jobs to you want for future generations?   We are at the point of less return on the environmental side and more loss of jobs.  Technology will help in time.  But now we need jobs to boost the economy, so we can pay for "RESEARCH" into the technology of the future.

moliere
moliere

Wish for MIlton County Look my right wing friend. Cease looking at this as an environmental issue and start looking at this as a JOBS and ECONOMIC GROWTH and NEW TECHNOLOGY issue.  "But Georgia Power's rates are controlled by a "PUBLIC SERVICE COMMISSION" whose main purpose it to maintain a "CHEAP" and plentiful electrial power supply." So approving those nuclear power reactors with their billions of cost overruns that get passed onto the customer accomplishes this how? The only reason to support solar and not nuclear is because the environmentalists love the former and hate the latter.  "Technology will help in time.  But now we need jobs to boost the economy, so we can pay for "RESEARCH" into the technology of the future" That is the problem. Conservatives oppose funding solar and other alternative energy research. They (falsely) claim that the private sector should do it all (when the private sector never has ... it was done by our NASA, DOD, DOE, NSF research projects) knowing full well that oil, gas and coal companies aren't going to spend a cent on alternative energy. So it is a double bind: we say that we can't implement alternative energy because it isn't viable then we turn around and deny the research funding needed to make it viable.  "So all those wanting manufacturing jobs - just keep making the electricity that powers those jobs more expensive and watch those jobs go back overseas to countres (China, India) that don't care to much about anything else beside making money!" That is a myth. We don't lose any manufacturing jobs because of slightly increased electricity costs. If that was the case, why aren't we booming with manufacturing jobs now since our electricity is cheaper than most other states? We lose manufacturing jobs because of higher wages because the standard of living is so much lower in developing countries than it is here. Where a skilled manufacturing worker demands $75,000 a year here, in a developing economy they'd be thrilled to do the same work for $20,000 a year.  Look, it is worth it to pay more money for alternative energy if it generates jobs here. Sticking with the fossil fuels generates jobs in Texas, South Dakota and West Virginia. Of course the politicians from those states and the conservative mouthpieces in the think tanks and talk radio who get big checks from those energy companies want you to stick with fossil fuels because it keeps the jobs and money in the economy of those states. But if we can generate 100,000 jobs (for example) in our state using alternative energy, then yes that is worth paying more for energy. That is 100,000 high paying jobs that can support 100,000 families which means 100,000 homes, 200,000 cars, kids in private school and college, trips to the mall and restaurants etc.  Really, this shows how the conservative crowd needs to work on their basic economics. Take your average small city like Macon or Columbus or Savannah and put 100,000 high paying jobs there. It would totally transform the economy of that culture and city right? But go to that same city and cut their power bill by 10%. It wouldn't do squat. It wouldn't attract a single business or employer. It would only result in existing families paying $180 a month on their power bill instead of $200, and the existing companies paying $18,000 a month on the power bill instead of $20,000.  Georgia has a good deal of potential for alternative energy. You have solar, you have biomass and biofuels, you have wind farms, you name it. Every job that we create in our state via alternative energy is a win for our state. If you would stop listening to the bought and paid for by the fossil fuel companies shills on talk radio and on the "conservative" websites and on Fox News, you would realize that. Don't think about it as being good for the environment. Think about it as being good for our economy, especially for outside metro Atlanta. Nearly all the family farms in south and middle Georgia are gone because they can't compete with the efficiency and industrialization of corporate farms (plus our Department of Agriculture policy, stuff like the farm bill that just passed, makes it hard for the family farms to compete with the corporate farms too). So you have all that unused farmland just sitting there, not generating any jobs or any revenue.  I know because I am originally from that part of the state and still have family down there. It is just empty fields full of weeds where cotton, peanut, soybean, corn etc. fields used to be. Now I support drill baby drill and frack baby frack and even relaxing some of the coal regulations, but that won't put those folks in South Georgia back to work. But building and maintaining solar arrays on those empty family farms would, and folks down that way need jobs more than they need electricity bills made artificially cheap by our Georgia Power monopoly that would keep solar and other alternative startups out of this state even if it was cheap and viable. If you would unplug yourself from that right wing echo chamber long enough and acknowledge basic economics you would realize that.

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