The heated debate over solar power

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.

Consumer guru Clark Howard argues on Thursday for a bill to encourage the use of solar panels and other forms of alternative energy.

Consumer guru Clark Howard argues on Thursday for a bill to encourage the use of solar panels and other forms of alternative energy.

“…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

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62 comments Add your comment

Centrist

February 24th, 2012
10:51 am

Oops. Mr. Jim Galloway is using old polls when he terms “front-running Rick Santorum” in Michigan.

Two new polls in the showdown state of Michigan suggest that Rick Santorum failed to gain badly needed shot of momentum in Wednesday night’s Republican presidential debate.

Romney now holds a three-point edge over Santorum in a Mitchell/Rosetta Stone poll, and a six-point advantage in the most current Rasmussen poll. Romney holds much wider leads in Arizona.

n

February 24th, 2012
11:00 am

Georgia leads or is close to the lead in so many important areas: bank closures, home foreclosures, drop-outs, unemployment rate, financial insecurity, low SAT scores, high utility prices, etc.

It is only logical and predictable that we should lead the country and the world in wrong-headed solar policy.

While the rest of the world is hard at work developing and manufacturing solar alternative energy systems, we are doing everything possible to stifle and deep-six solar, in favor of particulate belching coal burning plants, and nuke plants, which the experience in Japan has proved are grossly subject to human error and bad planning, as well as climate and geologic aberrations, with catastrophic consequences.

It staggers the imagination that Georgia is always on the wrong side of history, except for a very few enlightened former governors and far-sighted corporate leaders.

You can bet that GA will make the wrong decision, and watch the the country and the world leave us in their dust.

Bobby

February 24th, 2012
11:13 am

Democrats would tax it and make it mandetory so we would have to spend MORE money …

Centrist

February 24th, 2012
11:13 am

Solar energy is not competitive with coal, nuclear, or natural gas electricity generation. Neither is wind. Both of these alternative forms of energy production require huge government subsidies (taxpayer and deficit spending). The technology, hardware, maintenance and relatively short term required replacement simply does not make such alternative energy yet feasible. These are favored politicized industries helping friends and campaign contributors.

jd

February 24th, 2012
11:16 am

This is not a “free market” issue — this is a monopolistic market. GP has been given power to shut down alternatives and are actively doing so sending cease and desist letters to companies proposing to re-furbish office bldgs to sell power back to the network.

PMC

February 24th, 2012
11:18 am

So use the PSC regulate the new power sellers. Duh. Technicalities and lobbiests getting in the way of progress as usual.

PMC

February 24th, 2012
11:20 am

I don’t understand why GA Power is against this, they should be purchasing solar equipment and be part of the freaking solution. It would make them look a lot better publically.

jconservative

February 24th, 2012
11:21 am

n at 11:00,

That is a tough indictment of the State of the State. But I cannot find anything in the indictment to throw out.

PMC

February 24th, 2012
11:21 am

It’s not like Ga Power is going away anyway this is more about efficiency. Solar will help with the energy vampire issues like heating water and appliances that are left on. It’s an augmentation not a replacement.

No Longer Republican

February 24th, 2012
11:23 am

oooh Centrist (which by the way is nowhere near your actual position) and oil companies and power companies do NOT receive government subsidies????? What a stupid argument. Alternate forms of energy are a must. Yes they are expensive to get off the ground but maybe we could divert some of the billions we give the oil companies and power companies making billions in profit already to get power producing platforms that are renewable, dependable and don’t kill people or the environment. Get in this century dude!

n

February 24th, 2012
11:24 am

Vogtle is getting 8.3 billion in FEDERAL loan guarantees.
That’s how competitive nukes are.

Centrist

February 24th, 2012
11:25 am

PMC posted “GA Power should be purchasing solar equipment and be part of the freaking solution. It would make them look a lot better publically.”

No doubt that the loosely regulated and politically powerful GA Power successfully maximizes their profits. But they aren’t going to spend money on bad investments like solar equipment until government subsidies rise high enough to make it economically feasible – or until the government forces them to.

yuzeyurbrane

February 24th, 2012
11:27 am

The PSC regulates Georgia Power? I thought Georgia Power regulates the PSC.

jd

February 24th, 2012
11:28 am

So, GP wants to be deregulated but wants their competition regulated. AT&T is arguing the same thing with SB 313. Guess who gets screwed?

jd

February 24th, 2012
11:29 am

n – don’t forget PSC gave AGL 23 million to open up service stations for NatGas powered vehicles (which can carry a gun rack!)

The Snark

February 24th, 2012
11:33 am

Centrist:

You are entitled to your opinion that alternative energy is not feasible. But I am entitled to spend my own money to build my own alternative energy souce on my own property. For the state government to tell me I can’t — in order to protect the Southern Company — is an shameful. If “libs” were doing this, you’d be beside yourself with rage.

Oh, and don’t reassure me by pointing out that the Southern Company is “regulated” by the Public Service Commission. The PSC hasn’t regulated the Southern Company in years. PSC: Property of the Southern Company.

zeke

February 24th, 2012
11:34 am

centrist, i believe tax code has losts of built in subsidies/credits for oil industry….add those plus cost of wars and it has been said cost per gallon about $13 or better for gallon of gas. not sure how accurate but there appears to be lots of truth to those suggestions.

Danny O

February 24th, 2012
11:35 am

SB 401 isn’t about subsidies, or tilting the rules towards one type of energy production.. It’s about giving ratepayers the option of entering into agreements to purchase power from an entity other than their utility. Simple as that. If you support free markets, then you should support this bill.

DannyX

February 24th, 2012
11:41 am

Not only is Georgia Power getting federal loan guarantees for the new power plants they are also getting prepayment from their residential customers. Residential customers are filling the role of investor without the benefits. (Funny how our Republican government isn’t requiring businesses to pre-pay, lobbyists rule!!) The investor gets a guaranteed profit no matter what! Georgia Power customers are also on the line for cost over runs. Again our resident “Centrist” is out of touch with reality.

George Hills

February 24th, 2012
11:44 am

> Gingrich…Waverly Hotel…March 6 Super Tuesday party

Sounds dreary, darling. Mr. Gingrich touts his skill as a congenial liar in debate. Listening to a liar is a waste of time: he might as well be selling the Moon. I suppose some fools think liars make good leaders.

honested

February 24th, 2012
11:46 am

centrist, (of the extreme right)

You must be a SouCo shareholder (and happy with the ratepayers funding continuous dividends) or entirely ignorant of the situation. To wit:

Coal is neither more efficient or less expensive once the environmental poison remediation costs and ‘free’ water consumption costs are figured in. (Do you realize that SouCo consumes more water for steam condenser cooling that agriculture in GA?).

Nuclear would be off the table had not the wizards at SouCo put two lobbyists per senator on the floor three years ago to force ratepayers to ‘pre-pay’ all construction costs of the pointless Vogtle 3 and 4 units. Also, the super deal that SouCo got from our venerable elected leaders allow us to keep paying for the units until SouCo decides they have squeezed us enough. Right now, that is an average of 14.00 per household per month since January 2011 and projected FOREVER.

Natural Gas is better than coal, but doesn’t produce enough stranded costs to ensure fat dividends.

In the time that ratepayers have been gouged for the nuke plants that probably will be three times more expensive than projected and will probably take at least two additional years each before they go on line, SouCo could have been using the HUGE amount of capital squeezed from rate payers to start in one corner of the state and cover every possible south facing roof with solar PV panels to be ALREADY producing cost similar power in excess of the baseload projection needs.
A simple modification in the ‘Territorial Act’ (the law that gives SouCo absolute authority) would allow cash strapped schools to be adding to the grid in the summer when they have NO demand and at least offset some of their utility costs through the year if not add to their general fund.
Just saying ‘it’s too expensive and it’ll never work doesn’t cut it any more.

IT DOES WORK and the price is dropping every day.

Marlboro Man

February 24th, 2012
11:52 am

The current leaders of the state have little to be proud of, why do they get reelected ?

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td

February 24th, 2012
11:57 am

I see you libs just do not understand that the technology for Solor power has not developed enough yet to be a viable option. When the technology is there then the venture capitalist will be out in force to invest and make a profit.

honested

February 24th, 2012
12:03 pm

td,

Solar power is viable, venture capital is involved in civilized states (and countries) already.
The problem is an all powerful monopoly that currently limits even the amount of power that a private property owner can generate using their own property!

Get a clue.

DannyX

February 24th, 2012
12:05 pm

“When the technology is there then the venture capitalist will be out in force to invest and make a profit.”

Where were the venture capitalists when it came to funding the Georgia Power nuclear plants? If solar energy is not a viable option why should Georgia Power give a rat’s behind?

Shine

February 24th, 2012
12:09 pm

Republicans against deregulation that hurts their good buddies…..again.

Republicans against choices in energy, but swear that choices in insurance is great.

Throw all the GOP KOOKS OUT OF OFFICE

No Longer Republican

February 24th, 2012
12:14 pm

honested…td is clueless

Shine

February 24th, 2012
12:16 pm

This just in…….Republicans have introdued legislation to fund hairbrush alternative energy. All women will be required to grow long hair and buy hairbrushes equipped with new generator metal brushes and a static storing system. When washing or drying clothes ir many other tasks around the home where women should be, the brush can be plugged to operate many appliances from coffee makers right on down.

zeke

February 24th, 2012
12:29 pm

wonder if cavemen waited for venture capitalists before starting a fire?

td

February 24th, 2012
12:36 pm

I went back and read the story, the bill and other information and I am in favor of the bill because the main points is all about competition, deregulation and the private market. I long as I do not get taxed more to pay for these moves then go ahead. I am quiet surprised that you libs would support this bill seeing that you all raised h3ll when the natural gas market was deregulated.

Aquagirl

February 24th, 2012
12:44 pm

I see you libs just do not understand that the technology for Solor power has not developed enough yet to be a viable option.

Then why is Georgia Power saying it should be illegal for someone for you to pay someone for installation and maintenance of fictional technology? They seem awfully hot and bothered about someone trying to use this non-existent stuff instead of their product. Why, you’d think there are actually companies out there offering it for sale.

http://realgoodssolar.com/

Once again, td gets the dunce cap of the day. Way to go, ignoramus.

jd

February 24th, 2012
12:47 pm

td – we raised cain with natural gas dereg because we saw how the individual would be stuck with a bill twice the normal while strengthening the monopolistic market.

This opens the market, allows the individual entrepreneur (which there are several fighting Ga Power lawyers (a huge market barrier!) to explore this opportunity.

honested

February 24th, 2012
12:54 pm

td,

The ‘natural gas market’ was not de-regulated, it just added a layer of price guarantee to AGL while adding several ‘billing companies’ to charge for the same gas.
A ’sonny scam’ that keeps on giving.

td

February 24th, 2012
12:57 pm

Aquagirl

February 24th, 2012
12:44 pm

Get off your high horse and read my following post on the subject. I am in favor of any law that opens up competition and free markets (just like most conservatives). I am not in favor of Obama’s stance or the stance of the environmental left that says we have to give taxpayer money to said companies so that they can survive and sale their products. If there are companies that can make it on their own and a willing customer base for their products the by all means let them determine the market and go for the alternative energy source.

honested

February 24th, 2012
1:00 pm

td,

President Obama’s stance isn’t why we are being forced to subsidize SouCo’s construction of unneeded nuclear power plants. That gem is a result of the nice people at SouCo and their legions of lobbyists.

Catch up.

UGA 1999

February 24th, 2012
1:14 pm

Aquagirl

February 24th, 2012
1:25 pm

I am not in favor of Obama’s stance or the stance of the environmental left that says we have to give taxpayer money to said companies so that they can survive and sale their products.

The fact this was never under discussion or consideration didn’t stop you from shooting your mouth off, did it? And why are you bringing it up, except you can’t contain your outraged fee-fees on an unrelated subject?

Maybe if you weren’t so ignorant that there ARE companies selling solar power to individual homeowners, you might have some reason to act all butthurt. But noooooooo…you just had to rush out there and prove you haven’t the slightest clue. Not my fault, hon.

td

February 24th, 2012
1:25 pm

honested

February 24th, 2012
1:00 pm

You are not subsidizing the building of the nuclear plants. You are just paying ahead on your bills that would have been charged later when the plants went on line. BTW: I was not in favor of the move to charge us ahead of time for our future power use. Nuclear power is very much a viable option and we should develop it as much as possible. France has 75% of its power coming from Nuclear. I know you environmentalist are opposed to nuclear as much as you are opposed to any fossil fuels but we are not going to go back to campfires anytime soon and the world is becoming more civilized and there will be a greater demand in the future for energy so nuclear needs to be developed now since wind and solar has not developed to the technology point yet to be a viable large scale option.

Auntie Christ

February 24th, 2012
1:28 pm

First td says:”I see you libs just do not understand that the technology for Solor power has not developed enough yet to be a viable option…”

Then he states: “I went back and read the story, the bill and other information …”

We libs don’t understand? First you make comments condemning libs for “not understanding,” then you admit you haven’t even read the bill in question or even the article you are commenting on. You are so eager to take a jab at us ‘libs’ that you don’t even inform yourself as to the information under discussion. Yet we are supposed to take your comments seriously?

UGA 1999

February 24th, 2012
1:29 pm

Aunt Christ….You dont have to take our comments seriously. We do not take you seriously either. Right now 57% of America does not take Obama seriously.

Auntie Christ

February 24th, 2012
2:00 pm

uga 1899 Half my comments aren’t meant to be taken seriously, and the half that are go way over your pointy little head anyway, so I wouldn’t think you would.

UGA 1999

February 24th, 2012
2:06 pm

Auntie…I don’t think you know the difference between your fantasy world comments and the truth.

The Goobernator

February 24th, 2012
2:11 pm

People are missing the point of the solar power bill.
It does NOT force GA Power to buy solar equipment.
It does NOT create a subsidized industry.
It DOES allow individual homeowners and business owners to partner with a solar equipment provider, at the expense of the partner NOT GA Power. It requires GA Power to buy the excess power produced by these homeowner/equipment partnerships.

Current law requires GA Power to buy power only form the equipment/property owner, something many homeowner and small businesses can’t afford. This bill breaks those rules allowing people to buy equipment, or provide another equipment owner to use their property for solar production. The property owner gets solar power, the partner gets the profit from the excess sold to GA Power.

SB401 does NOT cost GA Power a thing. In fact, it makes them more efficient during peak load summer production. The entire investment comes from individuals and entrepreneurs willing to install solar equipment.

Auntie Christ

February 24th, 2012
2:51 pm

Auntie…I don’t think you know the difference between your fantasy world comments and the truth.

Right, I’m the one that thinks the book of Genesis is an historical document. I believe that the POTUS is a Kenyan “manchurian candidate,” part of the world wide muslim conspiracy to take over the world. I believed that saddam hussien had WMD. I believe that not paying taxes reduces deficits, and the Laffer curve is not a laugher. I believe that the Iraq war was about freedom, and not enriching haliburton, the carlyle group and bush’s cronies. Hey, just stop me if this begins to sound like your fantasy world.

UGA 1999

February 24th, 2012
3:03 pm

Auntie….Like it or not, the bible is a “historical document”. Most historical scholars would agree.

Saddam did have WMD’s, proof….he used them!

Not paying taxes does reduce deficits….OBAMA admitted it while campaigning. He also kept the Bush tax codes with a Democratic congress!!

Middle of the Road

February 24th, 2012
3:03 pm

My wife and I are getting ready to build a house. The EMC that serves the area says they will charge us $15,000 to run electricity to our house. That is payable before running the electricity. Then they will own the line and anyone else can hook into it for a nominal fee. We will never get anything back on it. They are the only option; you cannot go to Georgia Power, because the EMC has the monopoly there. If this bill were passed, we could get a company to set us up a solar system with generator backup (there goes Georgia Power’s argument), and pay for the electricity we use. Nothing up front like the EMC requires.

Jeff is not kidding

February 24th, 2012
3:07 pm

Georgia Power wanted to lie to the customers just like AGL (and all the knee pad wearing Senators and PSC commissioners along with Sonny Perdue) and try to get away with outsourcing billings and customer (non) service and call it ‘deregulation’. We as people saw right through all that and now these greedy bozo’s (and I’m talking about the execs, not the hard working folks) want us to buy the fact that they’re concerned about alternate energy sources not being monitored? I’m laughing at all of these jerks!!!

jd

February 24th, 2012
3:11 pm

td – not subsidizing — lessee — the legislature wrote a law that said GP could charge us for construction costs now (i.e. a tax)– or cutoff our power today (for failure to pay).

US govt is providing credits and direct subsidies for construction. (Our tax money)

What part of this is not a subsidy?

When the deal is done – SoCo owns the plant. even though we paid for it.

Middle of the Road

February 24th, 2012
3:13 pm

“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.”

See my post above – since the electric utility charges you to put in the lines, they are not on the hook for ANY infrastructure.

And as for back-up power – they obviously have never heard of generators. You know, those things they have in hospitals for when the Georgia Power electricity goes out?