Moderated by Rick Badie
A group of bipartisan lawmakers wants solar energy to be a regular, though voluntary, source of power for our homes. Read about their proposal, House Bill 647, as well as an energy expert’s assessment regarding sun power as a rate reducer.
Solar lowers rates, creates jobs
By Rusty Kidd, Tom Kirby and Terry Rogers
If you could check a box on your monthly electric bill that could save you extra money, would you?
You may soon have the chance, thanks to a new bill we introduced the last week of the 2013 legislative session: House Bill 657, the Rural Georgia Economic Recovery and Solar Resource Act of 2014. It creates a 100-percent voluntary program for customers of an electrical utility like Georgia Power to “sign up for solar,” even those who can’t install solar themselves. Customers simply choose to use more solar energy. They will see their rates reduced over time. because the sun never sends a bill for fuel.
Times have changed for solar in Georgia. For years, as solar technologies improved and prices fell, we have watched opportunities for solar energy grow in our state. Today, affordable home-grown solar is ready for harvest.
Solar energy is an abundant natural resource we can no longer ignore. The untapped energy that falls on Georgia every year is monetarily equivalent to over 3.1 billion barrels of oil. Georgia has the fifth-highest potential of any state in the country to produce solar energy for direct use and third-best for selling to neighboring states. Unfortunately, we still rank only 38th nationwide in solar installations. Georgia can do better. And with this bill, we will.
Instead of waiting for an electrical utility to decide when and where to add new solar to our energy mix, we think it’s time to let Georgians decide for themselves. Our bill gives you a choice to use solar energy produced by a new statewide community solar provider, who will deliver solar energy to a power company that would get credited to your bill. The solar provider will have to keep prices low to earn business, but customers will reap the benefits from the money sunlight saves over time.
HB 657 provides new options for all Georgians without taking away any existing rights. Everyone will have the same rights and opportunities in the solar market that they have now, including homeowners who want a rooftop solar system or companies that want to install their solar arrays.
The bill offers new possibilities to bring forward ideas for local solar projects. Regardless of whether a ratepayer is in an apartment, condo or farm with plenty of land for solar arrays, HB 657 ensures all of Georgia’s citizens can share equally in the benefits of Georgia’s abundant solar energy.
Empowering customers to check a box for the kind of power they want to lets the market decide how much solar we need, not the special interests of an investor-owned utility. All of this is without new government subsidies or mandates. More choice means more competition and more innovation and lower energy rates. It also means millions of dollars in investment and much-needed jobs in Georgia’s sun-drenched rural communities.
We look forward to the conversation that we’ll be having in town halls across our state in the near future about the important role solar energy can play in Georgia’s future.
State Reps. Rusty Kidd, I-Milledgeville; Tom Kirby, R-Loganville; Gloria Frazier, D- Hephzibah; Terry Rogers, R-Clarkesville; Buzz Brockway, R-Lawrenceville; and Carol Fullerton, D-Albany, contributed to this article.
Solar switch costly initiative
By Timothy Considine
The beauty of the Greek Trojan horse ultimately led to the downfall of Troy. Clean renewable energy is also very attractive, but it comes with a price.
While wind energy, especially in my home state of Wyoming, is now nearly competitive with other forms of energy, solar power remains relatively expensive. Recent technological advances in solar photovoltaic arrays are impressive but fall short of making this energy source competitive with electricity generated from coal and natural gas. The policy innovations by solar advocates to advance their industry in spite of these economic realities are equally impressive.
A proposed bill in the Georgia Legislature to allow citizens to “sign up for solar” is one such example. For many citizens, the question is, “What’s the catch?” Is this too good to be true? Unfortunately, the answer is probably yes.
More than 100 years ago, Marcus Samuel, founder of Shell Transport and Trading, envisioned fuel oil as a replacement for coal in shipping. His strategy was very simple: Create a market and get a contractual guarantee for future sales.
This is precisely what the proponents of this bill apparently are attempting to do. Environmentally concerned citizens of Georgia could be more than willing to sign up, especially if this comes with a promise that electric bills would decline. If citizens “sign up for solar,” there is now a demand for solar energy. Unlike the switch from coal to fuel oil in shipping, however, the net benefits of a switch to solar power in Georgia are unlikely to be significant.
So what’s the catch? Cost. Sunshine is great. You get a tan, vitamin D, and it’s free! You also can get burned. Collecting and converting sunshine to electric power involves some amazing technology, thanks to our space program. To buy this equipment, however, a homeowner must pay a cost roughly the equivalent of mid-sized automobile, $30,000 to $40,000. Recovering these costs from savings in purchased electricity can take a long time, especially since the sun does not shine at night or on cloudy days.
So who recovers these costs under the “sign up for solar” program? As the bill is written, the people who “sign up for solar” apparently would not bear these costs. If this is true, electricity ratepayers in Georgia — even the ones who don’t sign up for solar — likely will be stuck with the tab. While in the early years of such a program these costs would comprise a small percentage of the rate base, they would grow over time as the share of solar power increases and could significantly raise electric power costs.
Allowing consumers to choose their source of electric power is probably a good idea, but this should be done responsibly, providing full information on the costs of the decision, and ensuring they accept responsibility to pay the full cost associated with such choices. These simple principles could prevent the average ratepayer from becoming the “forgotten man.”
Timothy Considine is an economics professor at the University of Wyoming.