September 2013: Georgia's 2 new nuclear plants reach a critical milestone. (Source).
The July 11, 2013 3-2 Vote by Georgia's PSC to Require Georgia Power to Buy .5 GW of Solar Power:
The bottom line: "The PSC voted that Georgia Power must include an additional 525 Megawatts (MW) of solar energy in its 2013 Integrated Resource Plan, or IRP. The company must add 260 MW by 2015 and the remaining 265 MW by 2016." (Source). "[T]he amount of solar Georgia Power will add to its electricity mix is enormous compared with the 50 megawatts of solar the commission required in 2011." (Source). And 100 MW of it is committed to distributed solar. (Source). This in a state "ranked fifth in the nation for solar potential, but just 21st for installed solar capacity." (Source). Here's one of the first "solar farms" being erected as a result of this "525 MW ruling." Here's a December, 2013 follow-up "Request For Proposals" announcement.
Here's a piece that projects the above vote will foment inroads into the Georgia Territoriality Act, which enables Georgia power companies to protect (sue) competitors (solar power, etc.). And here's a July, 2013 piece that suggests Georgia Power is losing its political grip on Georgia's PSC. Here is a Georgia PSC commissioner's August, 2013 position statement that favors "cost-free" solar power (i.e., if it does not raise power rates, he's for solar power).
Note that, just days after the PSC forced Georgia Power to buy more solar, it applied for a rate increase. (Source).
Solar & Electricity Politics in Georgia:
General Site on Georgia Energy Policy Here's another one. Here's the 2012 Georgia Energy Policy (GEFA) report.
This piece alleges budgetary tricks by Georgia Power regarding its two new nuclear power plants.
Here's who's getting Georgia tax credits.
October 31, 2013: "Solar Bill Gets Chilly Reception In Committee" More here (Nov. 3, 2013 article also discusses "solar tax" Georgia Power wants to impose on solar array owners).
Georgia's proposed new solar utility:
Georgia, otherwise given a "D" rating by this pro-solar group, is has a good lick of Solar PV (here's a map of solar generators in Georgia) but is ready for more:
* * * *
(Source). Georgia's Brown Power interests (Georgia Power) are not so sure, where the push is to retire coal and jump into gas and nukes, then wind and solar, in that order. (Source). And California, this nation's path cutter in solar power, is re-examining its approach, with public questioning over hidden (ex: grid reconfiguration and other) costs. Still, "53.3 percent of [Georgia's] electricity is derived from the coal sector. The renewable energy mix is only around 2.3 percent. Within this, the amount of power produced from solar energy is negligible." (Source). So, there's room for solar-power growth.
It is against that background that in November, 2012, Georgia's Public Service Commission (PSC) adopted a resolution asking the Georgia Legislature to consider laws that would promote the development of solar power statewide. In early 2013 Solar PV grid-tying/generation legislation was introduced, as spelled out here, but it died in Georgia's legislature.
In March, 2013, however, during the final days of the 2013 Georgia Legislature's legislative session, The Rural Georgia Economic Recovery and Solar Resource Act of 2014 (HB 657) was introduced to compel Georgia's PSC to study and advance "community solar" production. The sponsors conceded it was too late in 2013 legislative session to be seriously considered -- hence, the 2014 date in its title. (Source).
Three of the PSC's commissioners – Tim Echols, Lauren “Bubba” McDonald and Doug Everett – joined Rusty Kidd, one of the HB 657's sponsors, at a March 28, 2013 news conference to push the idea of changes in the law to assist in solar development. (Source). Kidd added that changes in the law are needed to require Georgia Power to cooperate. “Georgia Power is going to give lip service, but they really don’t want it, so we’ve basically got to force it down Georgia Power’s throat,” Kidd said. (Source).
According to this source, the legislation would only affect Georgia Power (the monopoly utility for Georgia), not Georgia's electric cooperatives. It would authorize the PSC to grant "solar monopolies" to "community solar" providers who then sell to Georgia Power:
(Source). I'm not sure that's a good idea. I'll have to study this further, especially since the bill's proponent, discussed below, may well be granted de facto monopoly status. Others are studying the bill, too. You can read more about it here, here, here, here and here.
On 6/18/13, a Georgia Power's director of resource planning told the PSC that
(Source). Georgia Power conceded that a third-party leased solar power project to a public school did not violate the Georgia Territorial Act long ago passed to prevent competition with it. (Source). And GaSu is now backing away (in response to this article) on its "monopoly" quest, or so it seems.
Here's a "PR" pitch on what the legislation is claimed to produce:
But as you can see from the comments here, the legislation is so poorly drafted that it's a struggle to make much sense of it, and in politics such legislative muddiness is often deliberate (through ambiguity one may hide a lot and bamboozle the electorate).
Too, no matter how palatable legislation is made to appear, summaries like this are ultimately irrelevant. What is relevant is what the ultimate statute says and how judges interpret it through litigation. So beware of how legislation is pitched in the press, which often simply rehashes press releases authored by hired flacks for the future beneficiaries of such legislation (i.e., its progenitor, which is GaSU, discussed below).
Here's my take thus far, primarily from this interpretation: One company, "Georgia Solar Utilities" (GaSU) wants to build huge solar farms and be the only one (hence, be a monopoly) allowed to (via Georgia's PSC) force Georgia Power to buy its solar-produced electricity at a cheap enough rate that Georgia Power won't complain. GaSUwill claim it needs monopoly status (hence, no competition) to "cover its substantial investment in infrastructure" (the standard claim monopolist utilities always make). It will argue that it came first, it came up with the idea, it's the only player able to pull it off, and hey, it's the only way to get Georgia going -- seriously going -- on Solar PV.
As a small, "rooftop solar" electricity producer who can be nickle and dimed to death with "interconnection fees" and a below-market, net meter rate for my power, I'll be real curious to see if what I suspect to be the truth shakes out and whether GaSU's arguments and claimed benefits make sense for Georgia. Here's a very smart industry insider friend's take:
To help you understand the merits and demerits of this Great Debate (i.e., whether GaSU should be granted monopoly status), here's some background that I've been collecting on it:
GaSU arose in 2012 and billed itself as Georgia's first utility-scale Solar PV project, being marketed as a "Solar Utility." It then asked the Georgia Public Service Commission for permission "to start an independent solar utility." (Source). Not sell its power to Georgia Power to re-sell, but to use Georgia Power's grid and sell directly to the public, compensating Georgia Power for its lost profits. (Source). That's a step away from this direct-competition approach, as seen in this case from another state, as well as this, though I'd sure like to learn the details of this Dublin, Georgia school project detailed here and here.
On November 20, 2012, the PSC (3-2 vote) said it had no authority to grant GaSU's request but would urge the Georgia Legislation to change Georgia law to enable GaSU's quest. (Source). See also this article. This, too. Some said this may compel the Georgia Legislature to pass a 2012 attempt to open up the electricity market to solar-electricity providers, such as through third-party leasing programs. (Source). "Minds change on Georgia's energy," says this fellow. Anyway, that was followed by the above-noted legislation introduced in March, 2013, aimed at compelling the PSC to study and advance "community solar" production. The bill, this reporter says, would create a structure that would allow GaSU to sell solar power through Georgia Power and “authorize the Public Service Commission to establish a rural community solar initiative and oversee and manage a responsible expansion of solar energy in this state.” (Source).
More background on GaSU: I wrote here, in 2012, that Georgia Power may compete (click here for more on that; December, 2012: the PSC approves that; 1/22/13: this group support's Georgia Power's efforts, and your can read more about the "Advance Solar Initiative" here). GaSu's request was so unprecedented that a solar industry group hesitated, and said it was "evaluating it." (Source). GaSU's approach was "radical," some said, while this fellow digs down to a "big fat utility mindset" driving Georgia Power (its parent, The Southern Company) to over-focus on centralized, as opposed to smaller, distributed Solar PV. Ditto for this lawyer.
As further explained in 2012, here's where the rubber was thought to meet the road on GaSU:
(Source). In the "Comments" section of the preceding article, GaSU's Robert Green wrote this:
Robert Green says:
Thanks for picking up this story. GA Solar has asked for the right to sell power at retail rates over the grid direct to the end user. We pay GA Power the profits on the lost revenues via grid access charges. That way only the 1603 ITC’s [the 30% federal tax credits] are needed for success. No other subsidy is required. We want to go head to head with GA Power. Please download my petition from the GA PSC web site. Docket number 36286. You will see the value of a new approach to solar, a mutual company. It rewards ‘all’ ratepayers for underwriting the credit to build the solar farms through a dividend from the solar profits. With Georgia’s solar resources. 210 MW’s is not meaningful. 2 GW’s is. Our new corporate structure makes a big difference in what can be financed.
(Source). Again, on November 20, 2012 that petition was dismissed by the PSC because it said it lacks authority to act on it. That dovetails with the explanation provided by this source:
(Source). Here's a more comprehensive explanation that elaborates on the "ratepayer dividend" built into GaSU's new "mutual company" model. I like that source the best because it addresses the grid-integration cost (what a utility has to do to accept the variable power that green sources like Solar PV produce). In fact, here's a useful passage:
(Source). So it looks like, I concluded in 2012, private-capital based Solar PV guys are inducing a long-time Brown Power utility to compete at the megawatt-level Solar PV investment. GaSU model’s intended result then was to "put ratepayers first while protecting the incumbent utilities from lost profits is at GaSU's core.” (Source). Even better, GaSu wanted to use a mutual company model that would return dividends to its own customers over the long term. (Source).
That sounded pretty rad to me. I noted that Georgia Power had responded by asking Georgia's PSC to allow it to buy a 210-megawatts (.2 GW) of Solar PV-based power at $.13/KWH (not bad, I only get $.08/KWH for mine), and represented that doing so would not raise electricity rates for its customers. (Source). That was the largest solar initiative in Georgia's history. And the PSC approved -- it's being lauded as of April, 2013, and it's program is now "oversubscribed." (Source).
So, I concluded, it looks like Georgia Power is setting up to buy from GaSU and similar such large-installations. See also this source, as well as this and this. November 15, 2012 update: Georgia Power announced it's going to buy even more solar power from solar farms and residential array owners (too bad for me, I'm on an Electric Membership Cooperative's grid and it's paying only $.08/KWH).
Nevertheless, messing with a long-established monopoly power system can get complicated. I fielded questions for Georgia Solar Utilities here, and I questioned a PSC candidate about it here.
Some perspective: "The state of Georgia currently has about 61 MW of solar power. Over the next three years, its solar power capacity could be expanded to 210 MW." (Source).
Here's a related petition aimed at breaking Georgia Power's turf-protecting legislation, which is also discussed, vis-a-vis GaSu, here. Here's the group behind that petition (i.e., GaSU). And here's an early 2012 effort to change that legislation. Georgia Power's counter-arguments are noted here.
And here's an interview with a guy who's envisioning more or less a 100% renewable energy future for the entire planet.
Here's GaSu's October 29, 2012 pitch to the Georgia public:
June 28, 2013: Here's GaSu's latest statement, in which it disclaims any "monopoly" intent.
Here is Georgia Power's latest Solar PV project.
And here (click here, too) is Georgia's largest private rooftop Solar PV project.
My greater concerns with GaSU and Georgia Power in particular is two-fold. The first is with the perverse incentives utilities have. The L.A. Times article that I linked on my “Questions” page spells it out, as does my grid operator friend: Because of non-sensical regulation, the utilities out on the West Coast actually make money running multi-billion transmission lines to those big solar farms -- a point not addressed in this rebuttal piece. Nor this, either. And they make that money not because the large installations make economic sense and not because the utilities therefore profit off of higher efficiencies such installations may bring (the essence of healthy capitalism). No, they do it because they get to charge their own ratepayers a premium merely for constructing such lines. Money Quote:
(Source). More on the "California Controversy" here and here, as rebutted here and here. And just look at the fight, led by this group, that's erupted over just studying "grid configuration costs" out there. My grid operator friend's response:
I want to make sure all who are deciding Georgia's fate stop, look and listen before going over the cliff here. No surprise/hidden costs, as are surfacing with this big desert project in California. Meanwhile, for better or worse, Georgia has dragged behind other states like California and N.J., which have pump-primed their Solar Power sector with humongous subsidies and government largess. Having "waited" for a propitious free market moment, Georgia -- if it prudently clears the decks for competition like GaSU -- has a better chance of validating the Free Market Solar Power vision illuminated here.
A miscellaneous question that I posed to GaSU on its Facebook Page: Please tell me why GaSU does not have an even stronger argument with Electric Membership Cooperatives (EMCs). EMCs, after all, are supposed to operate as non-profit cooperatives. So at most they should demand from GaSU something to cover any grid-accommodation cost plus a contribution for capital-structure maintenance -- but NOT a "lost profit" fee. Georgia Power, in contrast, has to mind its profit layer because it’s got investors to address. Am I missing something here?
December, 2012: Nice "groundswell support." GaSU's target-site county, Putnam, has a publication with something to say on the matter, too.
Meanwhile, on Georgia's nuclear power front....
January, 2013: Georgia Power to shut down a bunch of its coal plants. More on that here.