A conversation has begun around the Capitol and across the state about new solar legislation by Rep. Rusty Kidd that I’ve co-sponsored: HB657, the Rural Georgia Recovery and Solar Resource Act of 2014. As readers of this blog know, I’m a fan of competition and using new technologies to solve problems and improve our lives.
In a nutshell, HB657 opens up the solar market for competition to lower rates for consumers. It does this by allowing a new solar provider to provide customers a competitive alternative for solar energy. More home-grown solar energy here in Georgia will also create jobs by helping a growing industry thrive within our state (rather than going to Tennessee and North Carolina for business). HB657 requires competitive bidding for construction of new solar projects by private companies, ensuring that free-market capitalism will drive down costs and deliver real price-savings to customers.
To put it in perspective, the energy that falls on Georgia every year in the form of sunlight is equivalent to over 3 billion barrels of oil. According to the University of Arizona, our state is fifth best for the direct use of solar energy out of the 50 states. Unfortunately, we rank 38th in actual solar installations. The sun is a resource in our state (much as oil is to Texas and natural gas is to the Plains states) and solar radiation is a commodity that Georgians should be leveraging, especially to shore up rural economies. The capital projects selected via competitive bids under the direction of the PSC take place in rural Georgia where we have available land and counties looking to shore up withered tax digests.
I’m proud that this bill addresses the high unemployment and lack of economic mobility in our rural counties. Hundreds of millions of dollars in investment would go into rural areas all over our state if HB657 is enacted, where coal plants are being shut down, where manufacturing operations have left for other countries, and where people are looking for jobs.
To clear up some misinformation floating around out there, no state money would be allocated under HB657. There are no mandates for solar deployment and the program is voluntary for Georgia Power customers only. And unlike Solyndra and Plant Vogtle, there are no federal loan guarantees. Due to laws on the books regarding territorial rights, Electric Membership Cooperatives and Municipalities do not fall under the jurisdiction of HB657 so the legislation only applies to Georgia Power.
I appreciate that Georgia Power has recently moved forward with a 210 MW solar program. Unfortunately, this project would represent one-quarter of 1% of the company’s annual energy needs at a price that Georgia Power says will cause “no upward pressure on electric rates.” HB657 would actually go further and lower electric rates. And once that 210 MW program is over, there are no additional plans in the pipeline for the utility to move forward with more solar projects that would reduce Georgia Power customer bills.
Here’s the bottom line: HB657 would only deploy solar projects in our state if they 1) are economically-viable, 2) compensate Georgia Power for accessing the grid and transmitting energy, and 3) lower electricity rates for Georgia Power customers who voluntarily participate. We can and should do our part to become increasingly energy independent and reliant on low cost fuels.