Georgia Watch

March, 2015:  Here's an article summarizing Georgia's "free market" solar pricing effect versus Florida's policy on solar.

September, 2014: Ga Power to pay free market rate for solar power.  (Source)

July, 2014: Market rate claimed to be paid by Georgia Power for solar farms.  (Source).
                  Georgia Power's Solar Profile -- it's now a top "solar" utility.   (Source)

July, 2014:   Here's a Georgia-centric piece on Obama's carbon-reduction directives.

June, 2014:  Sure, payola....

June, 2014:  Here's the annual Georgia Energy Report.

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.

I'm collecting articles on this historic vote here (in no particular order):  1 2 3

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:

Revised 1/23/14

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:

A recent study by the University of Arizona has in fact rated Georgia is one of the top three states in the entire U.S. that could benefit economically from solar generation and export of solar energy. The state's location, infrastructure, workforce and exceptional solar radiation were prime factors in the rating. The harvested energy could also be exported to neighboring states or help end the practice of buying very expensive power from out of state at peak times. 

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National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) calculated Georgia's rural solar potential at 3,000 GW.

(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:

Technically, HB 657 asks the PSC to have Georgia Power put a check box on homeowners’ bills, asking them if they want to opt into solar power.

That demand, Green predicted, would be strong enough to attract investors into corporate bonds to bankroll big solar builds, driving down the cost.

Then the PSC would choose so-called “community solar providers” and grant them a regulated monopoly over solar in a given area, exactly as Georgia Power has an electricity provision monopoly in a rather large given area.

(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 herehereherehere and here.

On 6/18/13, a Georgia Power's director of resource planning told the PSC that 

“Georgia Solar Utilities’ testimony failed to provide the detailed analysis that would be needed for the commission to even begin to consider its proposal,” he said. “Furthermore, Georgia Solar has not provided sufficient evidence to demonstrate that it’s qualified to undertake the proposed project.”

(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:

What the bill does: 1) Provides a 100% voluntary solar program that would allow ratepayers to opt-in on their monthly bill. 2) Lowers power bills for customers who take advantage of the failing costs of Georgia-grown solar energy. 3) Opens the marketplace for competition in the solar industry, under the supervision of the Georgia Public Service Commission. 4) leverages private-sector investment to finance solar projects, not taxpayer subsidies. 5) Compensates utilities for grid access and other electricity transmission costs.


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:

Interconnection costs, licensing rules, new voltage control requirements - you name it. There's a wave of "community solar" going on around the US. These sorts of projects don't deserve the benefit of the doubt. They need to be doubted first before they gain our trust. 

The big huge gigantic warning sign with this bill is the 2 GW part. The guys behind the bill are probably starting high because what they really want is a 500 MW carve out. Even 500 MW is too much when you think about how much money that puts ratepayers on the hook for. 

Danger, Will Robinson.

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:

The plan is for GaSU to produce electricity from large-scale solar PV farms and then sell that to Georgia Power. The company would then use some of those profits to pay Georgia Power for access to the grid. Any additional profits left over would be offered as rebates to customers. GaSU plans on taking advantage of the Investment Tax Credit to be able to quickly and efficiently establish these large solar projects.

The supply for GaSU’s power will come from a proposed 90 MW facility, which would be three times as large as the Simon Solar Program, the state’s largest approved solar farm. The projected cost of the new farm is $320 million and is said to open up opportunity for “hundreds of jobs” during its construction.

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If allowed to go forward, GaSU’s long term plans are to expand from 90 MW to over 2 GW, enough to provide power to between 330,000 and 670,000 American homes. In its proposal, GaSU stressed that it wanted the PSC to “recognize the value to ratepayers from their supplying solar power under an innovative business structure and to grant GaSU the right to undertake utility scale solar development in Georgia.”

(Source).  In the "Comments" section of the preceding article, GaSU's Robert Green wrote this:

Robert Green says:
October 1, 2012 at 4:36 pm

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:

GaSU could build its solar farm without action by the legislature or the PSC, and existing federal law would require Georgia Power to buy its electricity. But it would only pay GaSU an amount equal to what it could buy from its cheapest wholesale supplier.

The start-up wants instead to sell its electricity directly to retail customers who would be billed by Georgia Power or the other existing utilities, similar to the way natural gas is sold in Georgia.

GaSU would pay the utilities for the use of their wires in the electric grid and any profits would be shared with customers.

Because GaSU has no aging power plants and wouldn’t have to buy coal or gas as fuel to generate its electricity, its executives figure it could be profitable even if it charges lower rates. It would make use of the federal investment tax credit and expects to need no other subsidy.

As has been noted by solar advocates, Georgia is among the states with the most untapped potential.

(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:

Having waited to start utility scale solar development, Georgia has no legacy issues with previous development and is now able to use an organized planning approach over larger territories. Georgia can build a smarter grid by requiring GaSU and the electric companies to work together to solve the technical issues of distributed generation while addressing the best interests of ratepayers. This will have electrical engineers, not investors, making decisions of materials and system locations. 

(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:

Georgia Solar Utilities –– the need to act
(Georgia Solar Utilities) 

From the discovery of the photoelectric effect in the 19th century, photovoltaic solar energy (PV) has never slowed down. Many times it waited for decades as science caught up. But over the past 10 years, science and manufacturing caught up in a way that the cost per kWh for solar energy is now competitive with any form of new electric generation – coal, natural gas or nuclear. And solar energy has no environmental consequences.

Technology has delivered a real prize to the world. Solar has become a natural resource like coal, oil, natural gas and nuclear energy. All four are highly prized natural resources by nations for their ability to produce the power that drives our modern world. Solar energy took the world’s stage as a fifth major natural resource 3 years ago.

In the Southeast, Georgia is blessed with similar solar radiation as Florida while not being stuck on a peninsula. Instead, Georgia is surrounded by energy hungry states positioned perfectly to purchase our surplus of solar energy.

In August of 2012, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory published their calculations of the ‘solar potential’ of every state. Georgia has the solar potential to produce over 100 times more than the entire generating capacity of GA Power. Germany has proven, with half the sunshine as Georgia, it could meet 50% of the national electric demand for power.

Yet the management of GA Power and the Southern Co have publicly stated that renewables (which includes all forms of renewable energy generation) will only be a sliver or a niche of their long term energy portfolio. The principals of Georgia Solar Utilities, Inc. (GaSU) believe what they said and accept their refusal to develop adequate solar energy in Georgia. So GaSU decided the best route was to no longer encourage GA Power to develop Georgia’s solar potential and simply deliver the opportunity to Georgia directly.

On September 20th GaSU filed a Petition (Docket # 36286) with the GA PSC asking to become the first ‘all solar utility’ in Georgia. Our mission is to build an optimal amount of solar farms in Georgia so that all of the ratepayers benefit from a new natural resource that this state has always possessed.

The plan we put forth in our Petition is the first and only feasible plan that will deliver long term downward pressure on the rising cost of electricity in Georgia. Georgia Power has let it be known they intend to resist any attempt to change their energy portfolio split between coal, natural gas and nuclear energy. Again, GaSU accepts what they say.

Yet it also appears the management of GA Power and the Southern Co think they have the right to dictate energy policy to an entire state. They have never possessed the right to dictate policy, but they have certainly acquired the power to dictate energy policy. How this situation occurred and if it shall continue will become an ethical issue for this state.

Georgia ratepayers have the ability to end what is effectively an unnecessary and contrived carbon tax being levied by an uncompetitive monopoly whose management wants to ignore technology and the march of time. GaSU only seeks to move Georgia into our rightful position as the 3rd in the nation for solar energy production.

Enough solar energy shines on Georgia in one year to equal Alaska’s oil reserves. How much of this new natural resource do the citizens of this state want to harvest? GaSU has put forth a plan where a substantial part of the value of this natural resource can be directed into the pockets of all ratepayers and into state coffers.

Read more here 

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:

Although they will pay higher rates for solar power, California's utilities are poised for huge rewards by building thousands of miles of transmission lines to far-flung solar sites.

The state allows big power companies to bill ratepayers for every dollar they plow into building transmission lines, at a guaranteed annual rate of 11% for 40 years.

[Power Plant consultant Bill] Powers estimated the cost of new transmission lines to reach remote solar and wind power plants could exceed $15 billion statewide in the next decade. Upgrading existing transmission lines would add billions more, he said.

The transmission upgrades and new lines for the Ivanpah project carry a price tag of $400 million.

"The utilities are thinking, 'How could we morph this thing into a … infrastructure boondoggle for our company?' " Powers said. "This is the answer — remote solar projects."

(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:

We can't know what the entire cost of an energy option is going to be - there are too many dynamic variables. The utilities want to use PV as an excuse to goldplate the grid and pass along those costs to consumers. That's not PV's fault - that's the utilities looking to make a buck. 

The solar industry needs to get out in front of these issues and start pushing for standards that will minimize the offloading of costs. That means promoting Rate Schedules that are fair and balanced.  That means building inverters that help minimize the stress PV places on the grid. I think we also need to figure out standards for appliances that help with integration. 

The US isn't going to be running into any significant off-loading of cost issues in the near term outside of Hawaii. We've seen some off-loading of costs due to programs like net-metering but the numbers aren't off the charts. I think there's a need to transfer away from things like net-metering that off-load costs but this isn't one of the higher priorities. The top priority is getting the federal incentives properly structured. That's where we're spending the big bucks. You get that out of the way and it simplifies all the problems below it.

Also... I reread the SF Gate article. They're using projections of costs several years from now as if rate schedules will maintain the same structure. First off the rate schedules will most definitely change. Second off, I doubt they deducted savings from the wholesale market against the net-metering charges. Again, I think this is an important issue but it's not a top priority.

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 PagePlease 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....