Clearly, a bill to encourage the use of solar power is now the hottest item in the state Capitol.
SB 401, sponsored by state Sen. Buddy Carter, R-Pooler, originally had been shunted by Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle to the Senate Natural Resources Committee, where it was to be studied to death.
So on Thursday, an impatient Carter — opposed by Georgia Power, electrical membership corporations, and the Georgia Chamber of Commerce — brought SB 401 to the Senate committee that oversees utility legislation, where many think the measure ought to have been brought in the first place. Carter attempted to attach his bill to another piece of legislation intended to allow paranoid homeowners to opt out of wireless metering systems.
The concept offered by Carter is complicated, but my AJC colleague Kristina Torres has this explanation:
The most controversial aspect of Senate Bill 401 would allow outside companies to install, own and maintain alternative energy systems, in return for customers agreeing to a long-term contract to pay for the electricity generated by that system.
Conservative Republicans like Carter, as well as Senate President pro tem Tommie Williams, R-Lyons, have latched onto the issue as a matter of property rights, forming a rare alliance with environmental groups.
Lobbyists packed a hearing room on the fourth floor of the Capitol, where a clearly ticked-off Carter fired this opening salvo aimed squarely at Georgia Power:
”I’m not going to tell you that, just because the average price of electricity has increased over 49 percent in the past seven years, just because the fourth quarter profits in 2011 for Georgia Power were over 70 percent of what they were the same period the year before, that just because energy prices in the Southeast are 20 to 30 percent higher than they are in other areas of the nation – I’m not going to tell you that Georgia Power is a bad company. They are not a bad company.
“What I am going to tell you is that I disagree with Georgia Power on this particular item. I believe that in this particular situation, that Georgia Power is behind the times. Because if we look, we can see that 45 states in this nation allow this. Georgia is one of only five states in the nation that do not allow power-purchase agreements.
“…I recognize that this is a David-and-Goliath fight. I recognize that Georgia Power is the strongest lobbying group in this Capitol, the strongest lobbying group in this state…But I will point this out, and I want to make it absolutely clear. In my mind, private property rights are paramount to us as citizens of this state. In my mind, the burden of truth – when we take away property rights from those individuals – lies on those who are trying to take away those property rights.”
The first witness was Clark Howard, the consumer guru of AM750 and 95.5FM News/Talk WSB. He sat down, but immediately turned his head to address the crowd behind him:
”First, I’d like to say something, if I could to the folks from Georgia Power. I want to tell you, I think you’re very decent people working for a good company. I think you’re as misguided as all get-out.”
Howard then turned his head back to the senators:
“…The old-fashioned method of how power was generated in this country [has] worked great for the last 80 years. You had central production stations where coal, nuclear , hydro – whatever method it was, natural gas today – that energy was created from a central power station. We’d then have power that travels across transmission lines to people’s homes, schools, businesses, the rest. What’s changed in the last 10 years, and the reason 45 states have flown past us, is how power is generated now. It’s no longer necessary to be centralized. Today the technology makes it so easy to generate power so many different ways…”
Howard’s prop was a 1984 touch-tone phone, some version of which all consumers were once required to use if they wanted phone service.
(Please note that WSB Radio and this newspaper are both owned by the same entity, Cox Media Group.)
Kyle Leach, director of resource policy and planning at Georgia Power, sought to reframe the argument:
”We do not view this as a property-rights issue. We do not view this as a free-market issue. We’ve also heard this bill characterized as a financing bill.”
Leach then drew the committee’s attention to the language of the bill that permits the leasing of solar panels and other devices:
”That’s literally an agreement between a buyer and a seller of electricity. Our company enters into PPAs all the time – power purchase agreements. …Literally, it is a contract to sell electricity. That is where we have great concerns about this legislation. Because it introduces a whole new class of electricity suppliers into this state. Basically, it’s deregulation.
“…As far as we can tell, these new suppliers are not bound by the Public Service Commission. There’s no oversight. They’re not bound by an EMC board of directors or municipal city council or elected officials.”
In addition, Leach said, when the sun doesn’t shine, or the wind doesn’t blow, alternative energy users will require back-up power from Georgia Power or an EMC, which will be stuck with the costs of providing the infrastructure to deliver the energy.
The bill was eventually tabled, But look for it to rise again, in some form.
On the presidential front, the campaign of President Barack Obama entered the GOP debate in Michigan over the wisdom of bailing out the Detroit-based automotive industry with this TV ad:
And within the Republican field, Mitt Romney continued his effort to tie the front-running Rick Santorum to his former U.S. Senate colleague Arlen Specter, a Republican-turned-Democrat:
Newt Gingrich continues to fill out his Georgia schedule. He’ll be in Cherokee County, at the county’s GOP headquarters at 11 a.m. on March 1. That’s the day that had been scheduled for a now-cancelled televised debate in Atlanta.
Gingrich has also settled on the Renaissance Atlanta Waverly Hotel in the Cumberland area of Cobb County for his March 6 Super Tuesday party – a traditional GOP gathering place since the Reagan era.
The AJC’s Politifact Georgia today tests Newt Gingrich’s assertion that “you can’t put a gun rack in a Chevy Volt.”
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider