Solar Power

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.

8 comments Add your comment

Dr. Ed and Harriet Griffith

May 24th, 2013
1:01 pm

When saying renewable energy costs are expensive, people invariably leave out externalities. Examples are the huge subsidies to fossil fuels, health care costs, and clean up costs. Politicians who say they are against all subsidies usually vote for ending only renewable energy subsidies. If the playing field were truly level, renewable energy is competitive right now.

YTomer

May 24th, 2013
12:37 pm

The author of the piece willfully confuses rooftop solar (which is more expensive, but dropping in price very quickly) with utility-scale generation. In service of his compelling case, he seems to have made the remarkable discovery that the sun does not shine at night! Even more unbelievably, he claims it does not shine on cloudy days. This, of course, it most certainly DOES, and PV cells are very capable of converting diffuse light into electricity.

Commenter RSweeny, for his part, posted the exact same comment on an opinion piece in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette a few days ago, externalities shmexternalities, actual utility rates, and rising costs of fossil-fuel-derived electricity generation be damned. He apparently still owns Conoco Phillips stock.

Richard Kohsiek

May 24th, 2013
12:14 pm

I want to express my support for expanding utility scale solar energy farms to rural georgia, that creates economic opportunity, new jobs and pushes energy rates down.

[...] Solar PowerAtlanta Journal Constitution (blog)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 more » [...]

hfrik

May 24th, 2013
3:44 am

Residental Solar in Germany is running at about 1600$kW Peak, all inclusive. With this interest rates can be payed. Electricity prices do not remain constant – they rise every year. so it is unreasonable to calculate with 106$ per Year over a perod of 30 years. I think last year the rise was 8% in USA in the average?
Experience says solar panels last much longer than 30 years. The first ones installed 30 years ago do not show a significant decline in output power (cristaline Si)
How much can Connoco pay in 30 years, when they have run out of oil and gas? Anybody wanting this penny stock then?

Dr. Ed and Harriet Griffith

May 23rd, 2013
6:01 pm

In addition to ignoring externalities, those arguing against solar mistakenly thinks that expanded rooftop solar is what the legislation is trying to accomplish.

Utility-scale solar energy farms (200 acres +) are far more energy efficient than distributed generation on roof tops. HB 657 would leverage the bond markets and low interest rates to provide affordable financing over a 25 year term. It would also create a long-term energy asset which the ratepayers would own the at a levelized cost-per/kwh.

There is nothing theoretical about this. It has already been demonstrated many times in other states and other countries. Contrast that with investments in nuclear power which has over a half century of history with multiple failures in expense, reliability, and safety.

Georgia can choose to either get in the game or be left further behind.

R Sweeney

May 23rd, 2013
3:42 pm

Let’s run some numbers on residential solar in Georgia.

Residential solar is running $5,000 per peak KW installed.
That KW of panels will generate $106/yr in retail electricity in the Atlanta area.
Those panels will last 30 years then need to be replaced.

The INTEREST on $5000 is more than $106/yr. So solar LOSES money.
If instead, you took that $5000 and purchased Conoco stock, you would make over $200/yr in dividends AND watch your stock appreciate in value instead of depreciating to zero over 30 years like the panels.

Solar, at present, destroys wealth. The more you buy, the poorer you become.
Let’s not steal money from others to pretend it isn’t so.

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