Eaton Makes Conservative Argument For Solar Power

It was mentioned in today’s morning reads and alluded to here, so I figured PSC Commissioner Chuck Eaton‘s op-ed piece on solar power deserved a post all its own. Full column below the fold.

by: Chuck Eaton – Public Service Commissioner

Solar energy has become a polarizing ideological debate, with many on the left treating it as a religious crusade, while many of us on the right believe it’s a boondoggle designed to favor Obama supporters.

The bad name solar energy has in Republican and conservative circles is based on the way it’s been over-hyped and oversold by the left and, in some cases, by those with a financial interest in the technology.

In Republican politics, solar energy is synonymous with failed big government policies, in part because of money schemes like Solyndra and taxpayer-subsidized automobiles.

I believe that solar technology is not inherently liberal; it’s the way in which it is implemented that marks solar programs as liberal or conservative.

With the cost of solar installations falling dramatically, some say as much as 75%, we can now discuss deploying solar power without the subsidies, waste, and cronyism that seems to pervade government solar initiatives. The only way we can responsibly implement more solar power is to require that it does not increase rates, and that solar programs include competitive mechanisms to ensure the lowest cost.

From my perspective, solar energy should be evaluated on its own merits as a source of safe and reliable electricity at competitive prices. For energy independence and lower rates, solar can be part of a diversified energy portfolio if the price is right.

The Georgia Public Service Commission has been criticized by the left for not developing enough solar capacity on a timeline to satisfy their ideological desires. Since solar is almost 100% capital costs, with relatively small ongoing costs and no fuel requirement, the dramatic drop in solar panel costs will save Georgians millions of dollars over states that implemented solar earlier when the technology was less mature and much more expensive.

By being cautious and responsible, instead of following liberal special interests groups, the Georgia Public Service Commission can now consider adding solar to our power portfolio at much lower costs to Georgia families. This helps keep our rates low and gives our state a significant economic advantage in attracting jobs over other states that have implemented solar before it was economically viable.

As we have seen with the repeal of the sales tax on energy used in manufacturing, which the members of the Public Service Commission supported, and Governor Deal signed into law, lower energy costs not only benefit families, but it can help Georgia attract more new jobs.

I’ve been working on a new solar program with Georgia Power. The details will be released soon, but if a majority of the Commission votes to approve the measure, it will be built on the 50-megawatt program previously implemented.

In discussing this solar initiative, I laid out a three parameters: first, it shouldn’t cause higher rates; second, it must be a good strategic fit; and third, bids to provide utility scale solar power should be subject to a competitive bidding process to ensure the best value to ratepayers.

If the plan is implemented, Georgia will have affordable solar power generation without compromising the reliability of our system or rewarding politically favored companies. Implementing solar without government mandates allows us to focus on where solar makes the most economic sense.

As the Obama Administration and its Environmental Protection Agency continue to force electric rates up through burdensome policies, solar will play a larger role in our electric supply. In Georgia, economical use of solar can help us hedge against the increasing costs of future regulations from the federal government, while it leaves more money in the pockets of families, and helps attract more jobs.



  1. Calypso says:

    “As we have seen with the repeal of the sales tax on energy used in manufacturing, which the members of the Public Service Commission supported, and Governor Deal signed into law, lower energy costs not only benefit families, but it can help Georgia attract more new jobs.”

    What? How did the repeal of this tax on manufacturers benefit families? What new jobs has it attracted? Other than giving a special tax break to Sen. Don ‘Waffle House/Georgia Power’s Always on My Mind’ Balfour’s company, what good has it done as of yet?

    • Jas says:

      When we’re the last state in the Southeast and only one of the 10 in the nation with the tax still on the books then I’d consider it a strike against us when competing for large sites.

      Pretty sure Waffle House doesn’t qualify as a manufacturer.

      • Calypso says:

        “Pretty sure Waffle House doesn’t qualify as a manufacturer.”

        My understanding is that Waffle House does indeed qualify for this tax exemption. Balfour saw to that.

        Eaton speaks as though the new tax exemption has already paid off in landing new manufacturing companies and adding jobs. Where has that happened?

        • Jas says:

          I would love to see that language because on page 34 of HB 386 it makes it perfectly clear that restaurants do not qualify for the exemption. I’d imagine if WaHo has a facility in the state that makes batter or other food items at a centralized location then they would qualify under the definition (as would Kroger, Publix, Sara Lee and others), but to my knowledge there is no specific language spelling their exemption out as you allege.

            • Jas says:

              The Nuclear financing legislation from a few years ago (SB 10) has nothing to do with the energy sales tax exemption you refer to.

              Sometimes it helps to actually have a fundamental understanding of what you’re talking about before lobbing idiotic accusations.

              • Calypso says:

                Nothing idiotic about it. Please keep reading Charlie’s post to include this:

                “A slight correction is in order. “Some” of Georgia Power’s customers are paying in advance. The legislature, at the hands of the State Senate and most specifically Don Balfour (R-GA Power), exempted large commercial users (like his employer, Waffle House) from the rate hike. Well, virtually anyone with a lobbyist at the capital was exempted from the rate hike.”

                • Calypso says:

                  I apologize. I am wrong.

                  I’ve read that several times and always read that as an exemption for the energy sales tax, not a rate increase exemption. I stand corrected.

                  • saltycracker says:

                    Calypso, you ignorant slut …… But +666 for you, it is hard to apologize to someone that name calls SNL style.

                    • Calypso says:

                      Ehh, when I’m wrong, I’m wrong. All this time I was sure that the Waffle House exemption was for the energy sales tax, as opposed to the rate increase. That’s the way I once read it and that’s what has stuck in my mind ever since.

                      Admitting my mistakes is what makes me bearable to my friends.

                      By the way, I read your comment in Aykroyd’s voice.

  2. Engineer says:

    I personally like solar power and would like to see it in our state’s portfolio. As it stands, solar power is not economical as a primary source (it is way too land intensive), but it never hurts to have some backups if you have the space to spare.

    • Doug Deal says:

      Don’t you mean it never “Hertz”.

      Anyway, the land use is not what drives the cost up for base power, it is the fact that you need fully capable backup power because it is intermittent. So, you basically have the construction and maintenance of two facilities, one of the two being the one you were building the solar for to replace.

      • wicker says:

        You are looking at it the wrong way.
        1. The facility that you are trying to “replace” has been built already. Therefore, no added cost. When seeking to build a second warehouse, you only factor in the cost of the second warehouse, not the first warehouse that you have been using for 20 years, and will have whether you build the second warehouse or not.
        2. You aren’t trying to replace the original facility. Instead, you are adding a new facility to supplement the original facility.
        3. Though the original facility is reliable – and paid for – its ongoing costs, meaning fuel, is sky high. The new facility will (hopefully) not be very expensive, but it has practically no ongoing costs. The goal is that the productivity from the facility with low ongoing costs will reduce the high ongoing costs from the other facility, so much so that the second facility cuts so much costs from the first facility that it pays for itself.
        4. The real benefit may not be from a large facility designed to compete with or defray the cost from the first facility anyway. Instead, it would be from a large number of small facilities implemented by private citizens (both environmentalists and possibly even entrepreneurs if the cost gets low enough) who sell their power back to the grid. That has long been feasible, and not only for solar, but for other alternative energy sources too. The problem (in Georgia especially) is regulations that keeps people from selling their excess power to the grid.

        • Doug Deal says:

          This is bunk.

          If the other plant is still in service, its capacity is already in use and the new solar plant you are building to provide ADDITIONAL capacity would need backup, since solar is intermittent and unreliable. One the other hand if you retire a running plant into the realm of providing backup power for the new solar plant, you have spent billions to have 0 return on investment, since you would have generated that power by spending nothing.

          • ChuckEaton says:

            You make a good point on backup, and it’s been a past concern of mine. I’m guessing, by your posts, you already understand this, but the planning we do is built around peak demand (the hot July day at 5 pm). Peak demand is also the most expensive period, since you run your assets with the cheapest operating costs all the time and the most expensive capacity when you move into peak periods. Solar’s peak supply has overlap with peak demand. The bell curves don’t perfectly match, but there is substantial overlap. I’ve read a lot of studies (that were not in the tank for the extreme environmentalists) showing the hottest days have less cloud cover. Solar can potentially be utilized, as a part of a diversified portfolio, during the high cost peak periods. The key is to approach it in a rational manner. Diversity is the key: nuclear, coal, natural gas and some solar in peaking scenarios. Unfortunately, we have a President, and EPA, trying to take coal off the table. It’s put us in the position of having to shut some coal plants down. This is limiting our ability to stay diversified – as a country and a state. Just like an investment portfolio, less diversity = higher risk.

            The main reason solar is becoming a potential source of energy is due to the huge drop in prices, which is due to the oversupply of silicon and some installation efficiencies. With solar 1/3 the cost of what is was a few years ago, coupled with the peak demand / production overlap, there is a fit in the portfolio.

            • Doug Deal says:

              Comissioner Eaton, I greatly appreciate you taking time out to respond to this post on the solar issue.

              It is true that solar energy hits its peak at the right time of day, but the problem is that it does not work on a cloudy raining day. So, while industry is running its electric motors, heaters, mixers, pumps and coveyors at full capacity and residential customers have their A/C unit at “full blast” as we used to say as kids, when the sun hides behind a blanket of clouds and a bit of rain, the power generation plumets.

              If we are relying on solar power (i.e. are using enough of it to make a difference), we are either going to have to suffer brownouts or we will have to have quick energy source like natural gas plants ready to go. If the natural gas plants were already committed then they would not be available to pick up the slack, so by definition they must sit idle for that “rainy day”.

              In my opinion, it would seem to make more sense to overproduce on base load power (especially nuclear) and duing minimal times, use the spare power for desalination or hydrolysis and generate hydrogen power that can be consumed on site to perhaps handle peak demand the next day.

              • seekingtounderstand says:

                You make good sense………….don’t forget the issue of shadow taxation on current electrical energy which is excessive in amounts.
                Ga power bills would go down over 1/3 or more and I wouldn’t have to buy solar panels.
                Local and state governments depend on those fees and revenue. What happens when solar arrives in mass, whats the plan. Rising property taxes?

  3. Raleigh says:

    Interesting, I wonder if the Commissioner would consider rewriting the draconian Net Metering law in Georgia. Sorry about bringing up Net Metering it seam anytime I mention it people’s eyes glaze over and they start muttering incoherent meaningless commercial solar power generation statics.

  4. Jackster says:

    In Ohio, I can produce my own solar power and then sell it back to the grid at a set cost – you can’t do that here in georgia. Until that happens, Eaton’s argument is pandering in the worst degree.

      • Doug Deal says:

        Forcing companies to “buy back” power they cannot use and do not want that screws with the quality of the product they provide? Yeah, that’s a conservative approach.

    • ChuckEaton says:

      Homeowners can sell their excess back in GA. It’s at avoided cost, since no homeowner is producing excess capacity during high demand periods (there is not enough sq footage on a roof to supply a homeowner’s energy needs in July).

  5. Raleigh says:

    In Georgia we do have a Net Metering law which allows you to reduce your utility bill at a set rate( not the net rate) until you reach zero out of pocket. Unfortunately Georgia Power wrote the law.

  6. chefdavid says:

    Adding solar sounds good but wouldn’t you have to also add a large amount of capacitor banks to store it. What about natural gas? Isn’t it cheaper than coal now?

    • Doug Deal says:

      There is a problem with natual gas as well, as there is a problem with everything.

      One problem is that natural gas creates carbon dioxide when it burns. In the short term, this is not a problem, as alarmist global warming is utter nonsense, but in the long term, the building CO2 in the atmosphere will eventually top 1,000 ppm. At that point, plants seem to thrive at their peak, but anything above that is generally where physiological problems for humans start to creep in.

      Perhaps long term exposure would mean we adapt, but it is something on the horizion in the next 100-150 years. The immense inertia of energy production means that we need to start thinking about this now, since it could take 20 years or more for a proposed nuclear facility to come online.

      The other problem is that it is of limited supply. We have a lot of it, but why use it for stationary power generation? Liquid fuels pack punch and natural gas can be converted into heavier petroleum fuels to extend the supply of gasoline, diesl and jet fuel.

      One day, we will start thinking about things more than 2-5 years in advance. If we don’t do anything because it will take 10 years to implement, we will be standing around 10 years from now looking back wishing we had done something then like we did with drilling early in Bush’s first term.

  7. Pamdavidson says:

    That was a nice press release written by the highly talented Georgia Power PR team. It is Eaton’s bone for all the money he has taken from them. What do you mean guys, solar really does work? Glad followers pointed out the archaic netmetering law which preserves the Company’s monopoly rather than serve the residents/citizens/rate payers of this state. Both this and the Territorial Act have to be re-vamped if we are ever going to free rate-payers!
    Gotta love this quote by Eaton:
    “The Georgia Public Service Commission has been unduly criticized by special interests and others with radical ‘solar first’ political agendas for not developing solar capacity on a timeline that satisfies their liberal ideological desires,” Wow, if that isn’t divisive! I guess all free-market supporters are not his voters.
    Salty Dog-(and anyone else for that matter)don’t respond unless you are willing to tell us your name. Failing to doso is cowardly.

  8. seekingtounderstand says:

    Dear Pam: If you want to win the support of the unwashed, may I suggest one point.
    We are aware that GA power and all electric utilities are used to pass shadow taxes on to us in large amounts, my guess its 40% of our current bill which goes back to local and state governments. Can you do this to solar? Can u stop doing this to heavily regulated utilities like Ga power? Take the government run utilities that do not operate like GA power with some of them profiting over 40% on each bill. For the sake of solar can you answer this question from us consumers who will have to pay to convert to solar.

  9. saltycracker says:

    Not sure the PSC members need to position power generation as a left/right thing but a fiscal & responsible thing. Many on the far right are tree huggers too – John Birch has a double meaning !

    Solar is showing a lot of promise with consumers and a challenging opportunity with the mega-watt producers. The deterrent from some very large projects are environmentalists that fear for vistas and critters.

    Seems like a better idea & more watts to put a natural gas electrical generation plant in the middle of a forest than cover vast tracts of land of desert, prairies or coastal areas with solar panels or windmills. The critters are happier too. Not saying that diversification isn’t wise, but the name of the game is volume for the masses.

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