A Historic Day for Solar Energy in Georgia

The handful of solar advocates rallying outside the state capitol Thursday morning set the stage for what would become a historic day for solar energy in Georgia.

The handful of solar advocates rallying outside the state capitol Thursday morning set the stage for what would become a historic day for solar energy in Georgia.

As the morning progressed, the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) conducted a public hearing that brought in both clean energy supporters and opponents to give thoughts and emotional testimony on why more solar was or was not needed in the most recent Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) that Georgia Power had submitted to outline how electricity would be provided to Georgians over the next 20 years.

The question of the day related to whether or not adding more solar power generation in Georgia would put upward pressure on utility rates. PSC commissioners had made it very clear in the months leading up to this key ruling that they would not vote in favor of any measures that might increase the cost that consumers of power pay. Arguments were heard from a number of clean energy advocacy groups including the Sierra Club, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, and the Solar Energy Industries Association, all of which expressed their positions that due to rapidly decreasing solar costs, increasing electricity rates, and more strenuous federal regulations designed to curb air pollution, there was no better time than now to add solar energy into the generation mix.
"Solar is the best bet against rising electric rates the fuel will always be free and you'll never have to spend millions on environmental controls," said Colleen Kiernan, director of the Georgia Chapter of the Sierra Club. "Georgia Power just filed for yet another rate increase to pay for obsolete, unnecessary coal plants, while Georgia's Public Service Commission is providing true leadership and protecting consumers."

The tipping point of the day's meeting came when Kevin Greene, lead attorney for Georgia Power, agreed that both the Advanced Solar Initiative and the Large Scale Solar Generation Program were handled in a way that responsibly and cost-effectively established more solar power generation in Georgia without increasing power rates. It was at that same point that Greene said PSC member Lauren McDonald's requirement that Georgia Power incorporate 525 megawatts of solar power by 2016 posed no threat to the territorial power monopolies laid out by the Legislature. After these comments it was clear to the room full of solar supporters that a victory had been achieved and that more solar would be called for in the sunny state of Georgia.

Later in the day the PSC would vote to bring 525 megawatts (MW) of solar power developments to Georgia by 2016, helping to stabilize electricity rates and create potentially hundreds of clean energy jobs. Also included in the PSC vote was a decision to retire 20% of coal-fired power plants, another major achievement for clean energy supporters. Nationwide, utilities are phasing out aging and dirty coal-fired power plants. According to the Sierra Club, since 2010, 149 coal-fired plants have been announced for retirement.

Though solar power will remain a tiny fraction of Georgia Power's overall energy generation even once these newly approved solar projects are installed, one cannot help but be hopeful that this is just the start of a clean energy revolution in Georgia, a state ranked 5ith in the nation for solar energy potential. Georgia Power did not initially propose adding new solar projects in its original plan to meet the state's energy. But when it became clear that supporters had the votes, the company's lawyer said the firm did not object.

Today was a historic day for solar energy in Georgia indeed.

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