In a contentious 3-2 vote, the Public Service Commission Thursday approved a plan forcing Georgia Power to increase its solar capacity. It’s the first time the state is requiring the company to add renewables to its energy mix.
Commissioner Bubba McDonald introduced the expansion plan and said solar needs to be larger part of Georgia’s future.
“I’ve got grandchildren that 20 years from now I hope that they can look back as we are graded on what we have done and say, ‘You know what, my grandfather was on the Georgia Public Service Commission in 2013 and because of some issues that he took grasp of, we’ve got good, reliable, clean energy that we can depend on in the state of Georgia,” said McDonald.
The plan requires Georgia Power add 525 megawatts of solar power over the next two years. That’s in addition to the roughly 260 megawatts Georgia Power has voluntarily committed to by 2017.
At the meeting, Commissioner Doug Everett, who voted in favor of the plan, questioned Georgia Power’s lead attorney Kevin Greene on its potential impact.
“Number one, will this plan put upward pressure on rates for consumers or businesses?”
“It should not put upward pressure on ratepayers,”
“Will it create a solar monopoly for anyone?”
“No sir, our resources are all competitively bid.”
“Some say this is a mandate and some say not, what do you think?”
“I personally do not.”
But Commissioner Stan Wise suggested Georgia Power was only going along with the plan to get favorable treatment in future cases, including one beginning next week involving hundreds of millions in cost overruns for a controversial nuclear expansion project near Augusta.
“The ramifications will be higher rates which the company knows but won’t say because they have more important issues in front of us,” said Wise.
He went on to rail against the commission and Georgia Power, saying the solar plan was “concocted out of thin air” and an example of “Washington-style social engineering.”
“I’m real disappointed in the company. It’s one thing for the commission to make a bad policy decision but it’s extraordinary the company would lay down and take it,” said Wise.
The solar plan split conservatives across the state, with some blasting it as a government mandate and others saying it would boost energy competition in an electric market dominated by Georgia Power.
After the vote, McDonald denied it was a mandate. When asked by reporters to elaborate, McDonald quickly grew impatient.
“Don’t talk to me about mandates. It’s not a mandate. It’s not a mandate. It’s not a mandate. I can’t say it any more clear,” said McDonald.
Instead, he said the plan was an expansion of Georgia Power’s current solar program.
In any event, solar advocates, environmental groups, and some Tea Party activists all celebrated the vote, calling it historic.
Solar developer Robert Green, chief executive of Georgia Solar Utilities, has lobbied to end Georgia Power’s electric monopoly. He wants state law to allow solar companies to operate freely. He said the new solar plan will help the industry.
“I think it’s certainly going to send the legislature a message of what the PSC thinks about it so I would hope they take note,” said Green.
Even with the new plan, coal, natural gas, and nuclear power remain the state’s dominant energy sources. Georgia Power’s energy mix is currently made up of less than one percent solar. With the plan, that will rise to about two percent.