Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Georgia Power goes cuckoo for solar

Posted By on Wed, Sep 26, 2012 at 5:24 PM

Georgia Power says it's getting serious about solar power, a source of clean energy that for years it's called too expensive and risky. (I'll never forget a meeting when one executive told a state committee meeting solar would never work in Georgia because of humidity.)

The utility today told the Georgia Public Service Commission, the state agency that decides how much we pay to turn on our lights and heat up our ovens, that it plans to purchase 210 megawatts of additional solar power over three years.

Georgia Power says that, should the PSC approve the plan — and if the commission didn't, it'd be the most beautiful act of political theater we've seen in a while — the effort would "create the largest voluntarily developed solar portfolio from an investor-owned utility."

Solar energy advocates who have urged the subsidiary of Southern Company for years to boost its portfolio with the clean energy applauded the decision as a good "first step."

“We are glad to see Georgia Power recognize solar as a viable, cost-effective method of delivering electricity to its customers,” Georgia Solar Energy Association Executive Director Jessica Moore said in a statement. "This is a good first step toward increasing Georgia’s solar infrastructure. Solar creates jobs, keeps rising energy rates in check and makes Georgia more self-sufficient when it comes to meeting our energy needs.”

Don't look for Georgia Power to build its own solar farms or install panels on top of downtown's skyscrapers; it plans to contract a mix of small, medium, and large solar projects, which could even mean homes. It will spend the next three years setting up contracts, some of which could be signed as soon as the first quarter of 2013.

Why the (welcome) change of heart? Well, Georgia Power, which for years has scoffed at the idea of a mandated renewable-energy portfolio, now says the price of solar is now competitive. It probably helps that more and more people are realizing the folly of burning coal to power our lives.

Kristi Swartz has a solid round-up of the announcement, and notes that even with the additional 210 megawatts, solar energy would make up about 2 percent of the utility's output. She includes this cutting tidbit:

Kim Kooles, a policy analyst with the Raleigh-based North Carolina Solar Center and the Database of State Incentives for Renewable Energy, noted that Georgia will remain among states without a mandated percentage of power from renewables. The state also should loosen its restrictions on how homeowners and businesses install and use solar panels, she said.

“If it’s not doing those ... things, I wouldn’t say it’s ’cutting edge,’” Kooles said. “I say it’s great for Georgia, but it’s not a game changer.”

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