Georgia Power challenges solar company’s plan

Georgia Power, the state’s largest electricity provider, has escalated a fight with a fledgling company that it calls a “solar monopoly.”

Georgia Solar Utilities, a startup, wants to build a large solar farm and sell that electricity directly to customers as a utility.

The utility giant filed comments Friday with the Georgia Public Service Commission in response to Georgia Solar Utilities’ request for approval to operate as a utility. Doing so would “create barriers to future solar development,” Georgia Power said.

President Robert Green, in an email to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, said Georgia Power’s comments, which included the words “anti-competitive,” only reinforce why his company got started in the first place.

Georgia Power “clearly does not want any competition” from a company that would lower customer bills, Green said.

Neill Herring, an environmental lobbyist, agreed.

“That’s the silliest thing I’ve ever heard,” he said of the Georgia Power objections. “They would argue anything [to protect their turf].”

By law, Georgia Power doesn’t have any competition. It is a regulated monopoly that sells electricity to 2.5 million customers in boundaries protected by a little-known law, the Territorial Act. Georgia Solar Utilities is asking the PSC for permission to operate as a utility. Company executives have said they are prepared to lobby the state legislature to change the law if necessary.

“I don’t see how [Georgia Solar Utilities’ plan] fits in with the current regulatory framework or how the renewable energy market is developing these days,” said Bobby Baker, a former PSC member, who is now an energy lawyer with Freeman Mathis & Gary LLP. Baker represents Resource Supply Management, an energy consultant.

Environmental groups accuse Georgia Power of protecting its customer base to the detriment of other companies that want to provide solar power in the state. The utility has lobbied against a bill that would loosen restrictions on other companies installing solar panels in Georgia.

Some states let private solar companies lease panels to a homeowner or business and then sell that electricity at a fixed rate. In Georgia, the utility argues that doing so would mean that outside company is illegally acting as a utility.

Georgia Power has its own solar plan before the PSC. It wants to buy up to 210 megawatts of solar power from other sources over a period of three years, starting in 2013. One megawatt of solar power typically provides enough electricity for 450 homes or a large department store.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.