Consumers push Georgia Power for more solar, energy efficiency

A broad group of consumer and environmental advocates, business officials and nonprofit leaders urged Georgia Power to add more renewable energy to its electricity mix over the next two decades.

Georgia Power has no plans to increase its use of solar power beyond a program announced last year. Clean energy advocates said at a hearing Tuesday that consumers could be saving money and breathing cleaner air if the utility beefed up its renewable energy and energy-efficiency programs.

“People are paying so much more on energy … sometimes it ends up being half of the rent,” said Bobby Green, founder and chief executive officer of CHEC Pro, an Atlanta-based nonprofit for low-income communities.

Green was one of several public witnesses who spoke before the Georgia Public Service Commission.

Georgia Power has pledged to boost the amount of solar it distributes to its customers tenfold over the next few years. It has agreed to add enough solar to power 35,490 homes by the end of 2015 by buying excess energy from solar-equipped residences or small businesses as well as solar farms.

That program was not mandated by the state government. In some other states utilities are required to get a certain amount of their electricity from renewable fuels.

“We continue to engage in research and development,” when it comes to solar, said company spokesman Mark Williams. The utility also wants to increase its energy efficiency programs to reduce the amount of demand on the grid during peak times such as the summer.

The solar industry and others say it’s not enough.

“Solar energy is in the future,” said State Rep. Rusty Kidd, an independent from Milledgeville. “Georgia Power has said for years that they are going to study it, they are going to study it, they are going to study it. Sometimes you can study something to death.”

Kidd sponsored a bill (HB 657) designed to increase the amount of solar distributed in Georgia. The bill garnered some attention but some say it creates a solar monopoly in the state instead of a free market where all companies can compete.

Others in the solar industry are pushing for Georgia to loosen its regulatory policies that they say lock out private solar developers from doing business here. Some states outside of Georgia allow customers to sign a long-term contract with a private solar developer to pay for the electricity generated by solar panels installed at their home or business.

Georgia Power and the state’s cooperative utilities argue that such private solar companies would be illegally operating as a utility.