Georgia lawmakers seek to regulate solar panel installers
This story was updated Feb. 9 at 11:09 a.m.
Georgia lawmakers are looking to regulate the installation of rooftop solar panels, saying some companies are ripping off consumers.
The House Energy, Telecommunications and Utilities Committee voted unanimously Tuesday to advance House Bill 73, which would require companies that install panels at residences to be certified by the state Public Service Commission and make certain basic disclosures to consumers.
The measure advances next to the full House for more debate.
“We want this industry to flourish; solar is a big part of where we’re going, but we want to get the bad actors out,” Rep Joseph Gullett, a Dallas Republican who is sponsoring the bill, told the committee.
The Georgia Solar Energy Association opposes the bill because it sees the five-member elected Public Service Commission as a foe of rooftop solar, a spillover from fights over how much Georgia Power Co. is required to pay for surplus electricity generated by residential solar panels. Commissioners last year set a payment rate that solar supporters say is too low.
“We do not believe residential rooftop solar should be regulated by the Public Service Commission because they have historically done little to support rooftop solar and there are grave concerns around how the commission would go about the COA rulemaking, requirements, and approval process,” Don Moreland, the association’s executive director, wrote in an alert to its members.
Beginning Jan. 1, every company selling solar panels would have to get a certificate showing that all employees that would visit a buyer’s property have been subjected to PSC criminal background checks; that it has enough money to fulfill its obligations; and that its contact data is publicly accessible.
The commission could deny applications, revoke certificates or issue fines in cases of companies that break laws or rules.
Companies would also have to disclose financial terms of any agreement to customers including fees, interest rates, payment schedules, estimates of electricity production and legal notification of who gets to claim any tax credits or rebates.
Gullett said Greystone Power, the electric membership corporation that provides electricity to much of Paulding, Douglas and southern Fulton counties, had customers complain that they were sold a system that produces too much electricity for their needs, that customers were falsely promised they would never again pay a power bill or that companies didn’t keep other promises.
“If you ask the power companies and the EMCs about the size and scope of this issue, I think they’ll tell you that they’ve been dealing with numerous complaints and there’s not much they can do,” Gullett said.
Both Gullett and Committee Chairman Don Parsons, a Marietta Republican, said the Public Service Commission is the right entity to regulate and that the commission is already fielding complaints. Reece McAlister, the agency’s executive director, told committee members last week that the commission would seek to make rules and license all existing installers by Jan. 1.
“It’ll be a little new for us, but we’re going to acquire the staff and the knowledge we need to work in this area,” McAlister said.
Follow Jeff Amy on Twitter: twitter.com/jeffamy.