Arizona leading the way in solar; Georgia far behind

By Maria Saporta

Is Georgia, especially metro Atlanta, losing out economically by not promoting renewable energies?

The recent LINK trip to Phoenix by 100-plus of Atlanta’s top regional leaders made the answer seem obvious. Yes.

The Greater Phoenix area, by comparison, has seized on renewable energy technologies — solar in particular — as providing a promising path for future economic development.

Barry Broome, president and CEO of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council, said Arizona has passed renewable solar incentives and is encouraging the development of solar technologies and applications.

“We are becoming the Alaskan pipeline of renewables,” Broome said, adding that the state ranks third in the nation in renewable tax incentives.

That has led to the creation of 11,713 quality jobs with an average wage of $51,386. Arizona now has 71 solar projects underway with the understanding that we as a nation are “going to consume more of this.”

Broome said economic development leaders are getting legislators to talk about new technologies, and that the state has attracted the attention of Chinese companies, such as SunTech, China’s largest solar plant manufacturer which selected Arizona as the location for its first U.S. manufacturing plant. Broome said other Chinese firms also have taken notice.

Southface's Dennis Creech shares his thoughts on solar power and renewables with Georgia Power's Lenn Chandler, Gas South's Kevin Greiner and Georgia Power's Richard Holmes during recent LINK trip

Southface's Dennis Creech shares his thoughts on solar power and renewables with Georgia Power's Lenn Chandler, Gas South's Kevin Greiner and Georgia Power's Richard Holmes during recent LINK trip

Closer to home, the Phoenix area also is the home of First Solar, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of photovoltaic solar modules.

Earlier this year, the Southern Co. and environmentally-oriented businessman Ted Turner entered into an agreement with First Solar to produce solar power. But all that development will occur in the Southwest rather than in Southern’s home territory of the Southeast.

One reason that Arizona has become such a leader in solar is that the state has established strong guidelines in the use of renewables as part of its energy portfolio, something Georgia has resisted doing.

Already Arizona has become a leader in solar consumption and Broome said, “we will be the first state to meet our solar standards.”

By comparison, the Georgia Public Service Commission and the Southern Co./Georgia Power Co. have stated that Georgia is not a good candidate for solar energy.

But other solar experts say that although Georgia doesn’t get as much unobstructed sunlight as Arizona, it gets plenty of sun year-round to make solar energy an option for our state.

Broome said that because of Arizona’s scarcity of water and large quantities of sunlight, “renewables are more instinctive here than in most places.”

Plus solar is not seen as an exotic energy source because “Arizona was solarizing houses in the 1960s and 1970s,” Broome said.

He added that other energy options are problematic in Arizona, which state leaders have anticipated will need to double its energy production in the next couple of decades. Most of modes of energy production require large amounts of water, already in short supply in Arizona.

Also, the utility companies in Arizona have aggressively been switching to renewables.

Broome said that by 2020, 30 percent of Arizona’s power will come from renewables. “We are going to need to do it to survive,” he said.

After the session with Broome, two Georgia Power representatives on the LINK trip — Lenn Chandler, a region manager; and Richard Holmes, a senior vice president for the Metro Atlanta Regions — disputed the statement that the utility industry in our state was resisting the switch to renewables.

They first argued that Georgia was not well-suited for solar power development, but Southface founder Dennis Creech corrected them on that misstatement. Other areas with far less sunlight — New Jersey and Germany — have managed to exploit their solar resources through subsidies and incentives.

So then the Georgia Power representatives talked about the cost of providing solar energy. On that point, Creech agreed. Currently, there is a higher cost to producing solar energy when compared to coal and other cheaper (yet dirtier) energy sources.

Then again, Creech reminded the Georgia Power officials that the two new nuclear plants proposed for the state will not come cheap.

Creech also told the Georgia Power guys that the cheapest way to provide energy to Georgians is through conservation, which would slow down the growth of energy consumption.

The exchange between the Georgia Power leaders, Kevin Greiner, who is president and CEO of Gas South, and Southface’s Creech is part of what LINK is all about. The trip provides a venue where a diverse group of metro Atlanta leaders can share thoughts and information.

Plus, it’s an opportunity where they can build relationships to help guide our state in the future. And that’s one of the reasons why LINK is an invaluable annual event for our region and our state.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

13 replies
  1. Tiger Woods + Jesse James = SuperBAD meets SuperEVIL in "SUPERUGLY!" says:

    “By comparison, the Georgia Public Service Commission and the Southern Co./Georgia Power Co. have stated that Georgia is not a good candidate for solar energy.”

    Of course Georgia is a TERRIBLE candidate for solar energy because as we all know there just isn’t enough sun here in Georgia, a state in the SUNBELT, located right next to, Florida, The SUNSHINE State, a state that gets even more rain than Georgia, on average. If solar energy can work in a state that gets more rain like Florida, then there is no way that it can possibly work in Georgia, right? I believe every word that Southern Company/Georgia Power and the Georgia Public Service Commission have stated on this issue, because its clear that they have the best interests of all Georgians in mind and always place those interests ahead of the almightly dollar!Report

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  2. Yr1215 says:

    Georgia does get far less sun than Florida or Arizona, as the GA Power people correctly pointed out: it is far less economical here than Arizona. Of course, Dennis is correct in pointing out that Germany uses solar. Of course, they are going broke because of it. So is Spain. Spain, which is far sunnier is even dialing back incentives, and so is Germany.

    The point is, solar is helpful, but not economical as of yet. I hope it becomes economical, its a fantastically clean energy source. But its not there yet.Report

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  3. professional skeptic says:

    It appears that AZ acknowledges that burning fossil fuels is cheaper, but nonetheless is investing in solar to be prepared for the time when we’ll be relying more and more on renewables.

    Arizona makes up the difference between the cost of the two forms of energy with tax incentives.

    If Georgia were to offer similar tax incentives — OR were to approve the same kind of rate increases to cover the cost of developing solar projects as with nuclear projects — then I suspect that Georgia would suddenly become a better candidate for solar energy.Report

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  4. Beth Bond says:

    To the professional skeptic and Yr1215. There is a wealth of information regarding solar uses for Georiga. Solar is not the end solution. However, solar is the solution for peak demand which is why our power company operates coal plants 24 hours a day just in case the temperature goes over 90 degrees and we need the peak production. The average solar hour for Georgia is 5+. If we used solar to meet peak power needs then not only would we be better off on the following concerns: childrens health (Atlanta is consistently ranked in the top 10 cities for Asthma. Most cases reported? In August. CDC has all the stats. It’s not the pollen. It’s when we are meeting peak demand in August when we burn the most coal and coincidentally have the most Asthma cases.), more green jobs, more tax revenue for the state, and long term energy solutions for the state. Southern Company and Georgia Power have been great corporate citizens. Just wish they would get on board. If Georgia Power supported solar then it would be a boon for the state. Just think of all those warehouses by the airport that could become solar farms instead of a building new nuclear and coal plants. How exciting would that be? It would also create many more construction jobs and long term jobs by incorporating solar in to their long term plans.Report

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  5. Tired of the yammering says:

    It would be very exciting, Beth. I would fully support tax incentives or other measures that would promote large scale solar power in GA.Report

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  6. professional skeptic says:

    I, for one, appreciate Maria’s reporting on this. The fact that our own Southern Company is investing in solar in Arizona but not in Georgia is frustrating. I did not know this before reading this report.

    Georgia’s atmosphere may have more humidity, pollen, smog particulates – or hot air from its politicians – than Arizona’s does, resulting in incrementally lower cost efficiency in the generation of solar power. But, as Beth Bond points out, the benefits of solar energy in terms of our environment and health are too great to dismiss.

    WABE news ran a report the other morning on the high levels of mercury in Georgia’s fresh water fish– mercury which largely comes from coal burning power plants.

    http://www.gpb.org/news/2010/05/04/mercury-high-in-south-georgia-fish

    There’s also this story that comes in the wake of the TN coal ash spill:

    http://www.publicbroadcasting.net/wabe/news.newsmain/article/1/0/1645878/Atlanta/EPA.Considers.Regulating.Coal.Ash.as.Hazardous.Material

    (Not surprisingly, GA Power believes that coal ash should not be considered hazardous waste.)

    The only thing standing in our way of developing solar energy and other renewables is the inertia of Georgia’s policy makers. They budged this year on transportation. Perhaps next we can urge them to invest in solar for the purposes described by Beth.Report

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  7. Yr1215 says:

    Southern Co is investing money in it in Arizona because Ted Turner is subsidizing it and because Arizona gets more than 50% more sunshine than Georgia.

    The economics are simple. Solar in general is very unproductive. Solar in Germany is incredibly stupid. Solar in Georgia is somewhat less stupid. And solar in Arizona is just average stupid, but also the least stupid.

    I’m all for cleaner energy forms (less smog, mercury, etc.). But lets just be clear, Georgia is not naturally endowed with alternative energy resources other than trying to convert timber scraps to renewable energy resources.

    Solar does not make economic sense. If you (and the rest of the voting public in Georgia) are willing to accept a power bill four times as high, then Solar works just fine, although it will kill our economy.

    I, for one, would be paying over $4,000 per year for electricity unsubsidized. I don’t think anyone is signing up for that program. And there aren’t enough financial resources in this state to subsidize everyone (you would need somewhere between $8 and $13 Billion in subsidies every year, which would be a 50% increase in the state budget and your taxes to pay for it.

    Conclusion: it doesn’t work. We should buy solar from florida and wind from texas. We will then also be an energy importer, hurting our economy. Oh yes, and you will bankrupt one of the largest employers in the state.

    No easy answers once you get out of dreamland, Beth.Report

    Reply
  8. Yr1215 says:

    One other note. If you want to help the environment, the absolute best thing that could happen is energy conservation.

    This entails weatherizing and upgrading HVAC for existing homes, and tearing down very functionally obsolete homes to be replaced by tightly sealed new homes. And providing the base regulations and incentives to ensure new homes are built well. This will also raise the cost of homes, but it is the least expensive way to reduce our carbon footprint.Report

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  9. Yr1215 says:

    And number one on the list: replace all your lightbulbs with flourescents, and when / if LED’s get cheaper, replace with LED’s.Report

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  10. Yr1215 says:

    Oh yeah, we could also encourage more multifamily development, which is far more energy efficient than single family development.

    That doesn’t seem to be too popular anywhere in Georgia as every municipality pretty much fights every multifamily construction project unless you’re somehow grandfathered in. So good luck with that too.

    The reality is the voters and residents prefer nasty cheap energy, big homes, and big cars. When energy inputs (oil, coal) get significantly more expensive, the math will change.

    Until then, I think we’re in fantasy land. Although I am supportive of the additional nuclear efforts of Southern. That will help reduce carbon big time in GA.Report

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  11. Robert Johnson says:

    The BeltLine is installing solar in 2 upcoming parks….4th Ward and Stanton….that will make them, on an economic basis, cost neutral. Parks has stated that electricity is one of their biggest costs. For under 5% of their construction budget, BeltLine is able to make this issue go away for Parks.Report

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  12. Yr1215 says:

    The one possible, and I emphasize possible, argument for solar would be in regard to peak demand as someone mentioned higher up.

    If the additional fixed investment to meet peak demand is excessive, then it might be possible for solar to help mitigate this peak demand, probably on High AC need days.

    The economics are genuinely debatable when referring to peak demand because of the complexities of the economics involved. Even so, IF solar made sense for peak demand, it would still only be a limited part of the energy portfolio for Georgia, maybe 5 or 10% max. This justifies a cap on solar tax credits or a cap on the amount of feed in tariffs for solar. The failure to cap these is a significant part of what is driving Spain into financial disaster.Report

    Reply

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