The Real Story Behind GA's Solar Mandates - By Jim Clarkson
On July 11, the Georgia Public Service Commission voted to order Georgia Power Company to buy more solar generated electricity. The big impact of this 2013 Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) was hardly noticed as the public and the green lobby concentrated on promotion of solar energy. There had been loud public support for more solar power, leading many to believe that the support was more widespread. In reality, Georgia Power has 2.4 million customers and only about 7,000 (less than 3/10 of 1%) voluntarily pay the premium for power from renewable sources. The public attitude seems to support the idea that others should use solar power, but most individuals don’t want to pay extra for it themselves.
The formal case before the PSC was Georgia Power’s 20-year plan for meeting electricity needs. The Company detailed their current situation where they currently have more than adequate generating facilities in place for many years (more than 30 percent in reserve generating capacity). For decades, the power industry has claimed they need 12% to 15% reserves. However, outside analysts say with the modern interconnections between utilities and intensified maintenance they could get by with 8%. In other words, the utility not only does not need any solar power, it doesn’t need any new power for at least 5 years.
Some advocates of solar seem to think the measure before the PSC would create competition for the utility. It doesn’t. It simply requires Georgia Power to buy more solar power at prices that are double to triple the typical market price for wholesale power.
The parties pushing for more solar included Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Southern Environment Law Center, Sierra Club, Georgia Watch, Atlanta Tea Party Patriots, Georgia Solar Utilities, and Georgia Solar Energy Industries Association. Americans for Prosperity Georgia was not a party to the formal case though they participated in the public debate taking the side of electricity consumers against mandates for high cost solar power on households and businesses.
There is a great deal of misinformation on this issue. The main claim is that solar power is less expensive than conventional generation. It isn’t. The green lobby has made a tremendous effort in this case and concentrated on having more solar generation in the Company’s future generation mix. Make no mistake about it, solar power is expensive and the fragile Georgia economy has taken another blow.
In comments opposing the requirement for more solar power, Public Service Commissioner Stan Wise said he was disappointed that Americans for Prosperity Georgia was one of the only voices opposed to higher electricity costs. For his part, Commissioner Bubba McDonald told the Power Company he had two other votes, Tim Echols and Doug Everett, for increased solar purchases to be included in the plan. This, alongside Georgia Power’s need for the Commission to approve its nuclear construction cost overruns and another pending rate case, combined to silence opposition and give the Commission a clear path to passage.
Georgia Power faced what in political science is known as a “Baptist and Bootlegger Alliance.” These two parties have entirely different reasons for banning liquor sales on Sunday. The Baptists, in this matter, think solar energy is a nice thing to have. Meanwhile, the hard-nosed reality-oriented solar developers, Bootleggers, know that solar can only work when there are massive subsidies and mandated purchases obtained by political connections. The 2013 IRP proceeding are a disaster for the Georgia economy and a triumph for special interests with very few defenders of electricity customers.
Jim Clarkson is the President of RSMEnergy.com, a company that maximizes utility services for businesses and consumers. Mr. Clarkson holds a Bachelor of Science in Industrial Engineering and a Masters in Business Administration. He has a decades-long career in the natural gas and electric industry, providing services to industrial and commercial users, alongside his extensive expertise in rate design, cost allocation, risk management, sales contracts and energy saving programs for large energy users.