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Georgia Solar Industry Town Hall Meeting Recap | Solar Energy USA Blog Archive

Georgia Solar Industry Town Hall Meeting Recap

Posted on Monday, June 17th, 2013 at 4:17 pm by Solar Energy USA
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On Monday, June 17th Solar Energy USA had the pleasure of attending a discussion on the future of solar energy in Georgia. Panelists in attendance at the event included Public Service Commissioners, local politicians, representatives of Georgia based solar companies, and many local solar enthusiasts. The event was hosted at the Lanier Technical College in Oakwood where a number of solar energy programs are offered (for more on the solar training programs available at Lanier Tech read our blog post). The Lanier Tech campus in Oakwood is powered by multiple photovoltaic (PV) solar arrays which generate up to 40% of the school’s energy needs.

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In the state of Georgia, Georgia Power is required to file an Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) every three years to outline its plans to continue to meet the state’s electricity needs. As part of the most recent filing, Georgia Power is requesting to decertify and retire 15 coal- and oil-fired power plants totaling 2,061 megawatts (MW).

Monday’s solar town hall meeting revolved around the challenges the state of Georgia faces regarding meeting increasing domestic energy needs without increasing power rates. One of these challenges includes devising a plan to replace the dirty power plants that are being shut down as a result of high costs and negative environmental factors. Plant Harllee Branch, a coal-fired power plant owned by Georgia Power currently in operation in Putnam County, is scheduled to stop producing power by 2015. As a result of this loss of power generation capacity, a bill has been introduced which would transform the Harlee Branch location into a massive solar farm upon its decommissioning.

Georgia House Bill 657 (HB 657) was introduced by Representative Rusty Kidd, an independent from Milledgeville who was present at the solar town hall meeting, and would authorize a new solar utility – a monopoly independent of Georgia Power – to build a solar power plant in lieu of the coal plant that is being closed. While it is unlikely to pass in its current form, HB 657 opens up the door for a conversation on best policies for 21st century power production in Georgia.

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Commissioner Chuck Eaton, present on the town hall panel, commented that the federal government was “hostile towards coal.” According to Eaton, “Diversity is key to running a successful [energy] portfolio. Coal, nuclear, and natural gas are all major sources of power generation right now.  Without coal we need to support other forms of energy generation to balance the equation.” Eaton cited the 210 megawatt (MW) project the PSC just approved with Georgia Power – their Advanced Solar Initiative (ASI) – as a sign the power monopoly is becoming more solar friendly.

But according to Lauren McDonald, another PSC Commissioner who was present in the audience but not engaged with the panelists, the ASI is a good start but nothing on which Georgia Power or the PSC should rest their laurels. “[North Carolina-based] Duke Energy has got a 1,700 megawatt energy program going on right now,” said McDonald, a former Democrat turned Republican.

Another topic discussed was the lack of solar legislation that states outside of Georgia currently have in place.  Mark Bell, a panelist from a Georgia based solar integrator who is currently doing work in more solar friendly states like North Carolina, said that the difference in doing business in Georgia versus other states comes down to 2 components:  legislative policies that are solar friendly (like net metering and PPAs) as well as policies and programs that allow solar to flourish. The state of North Carolina (where solar is booming) has a modest Renewables Portfolio Standard as well as a Renewable Energy Tax Credit. “This has added 10,000 plus solar jobs in the state” Bell commented.

Net Metering Overview

Net metering or net energy metering (NEM) allows electricity customers who wish to supply their own electricity from on-site generation to pay only for the net energy they obtain from the utility. Since the output of a PV system may not perfectly match the on-site demand for electricity, a home or business with a PV system will export excess power to the electric grid at some times and import power from the grid at other times. The utilities bill customers only for the net electricity used during each billing period. Alternately, if a customer has produced more electricity than they have consumed, the credit for that net excess generation will be treated according to the NEM policy of the state or utility. Currently, 43 states plus D.C. have implemented net metering policies (Georgia is one of the 7 that currently lacks any statewide net metering policy).

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The charts below show the number of solar NEM customers and installed capacity of NEM solar PV systems by state as of YE 2011, as well as its Freeing the Grid NEM grade (All Figures from EIA 861 and 826 Data).

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What can you do to champion more solar in Georgia?

Contact the PSC and let them know that you support solar.

Find and contact your local Georgia legislators and let them know that Georgia needs more solar-friendly policies, incentives, and rebates.

Sign the Solar Works for America petition to let your government know that you support more solar in America.

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