Only 4,300 of Georgia Power's 2.3 million customers opt to pay a few dollars a month more to buy "green" sources of electricity -- mostly biomass, with a little solar power thrown in.
Everyone from green energy advocates to utility executives have bemoaned the lack of participation in the program.
Now, Georgia Public Service Commissioner Lauren "Bubba" McDonald Jr. has an idea how to push the company's Green Energy program along: Offer electricity customers a solar-only option.
"I think there is definitely a market out there, including myself, that would like to purchase solar product only," McDonald said Tuesday, after the PSC unanimously agreed with his proposal to ask Georgia Power and the PSC's staff to study the feasibility of a 100-percent solar option.
The concept drew praise, but also some skepticism.
Commissioner Stan Wise noted that, "It remains to be seen, in a price-conscious economy, if people will put their money where their mouth is."
McDonald said the extra cost of the solar-only program would be wholly paid by customers who choose to buy it. Neither Georgia Power nor other ratepayers would be charged extra because of it, he said.
The extra cost to customers who take the solar-option hasn't been determined.
Michelle Conlon, a member of the board of the Georgia Solar Energy Association, said, "I believe it's a step in the right direction." She said Georgia Power's current Green Energy offerings are high-priced and provide little and no solar option, respectively.
One option, which costs an extra $3.50 a month for each 100-kilowatt-hour block of green energy purchased, uses 100 percent biomass sources. The other, which costs an extra $4.50 a month for the same amount of electricity, uses a 90 percent biomass and 10 percent solar mix. The average customer's monthly usage is about 1,000 kilowatt-hours.
Georgia Power said 734 customers take the solar mix option out of the 4,300 in its Green Energy program. The average purchase is 1.6 blocks per month.
Green Energy customers don't literally use electricity in their homes from the alternative sources. Rather, their purchase allows the utility to displace power that would come from coal or natural gas with power from renewable sources such as biomass and solar.
Georgia Power spokeswoman Lynn Wallace said the utility supports "any new concepts like solar-only that would help us grow our renewable (energy sources) without putting upward pressure on ratepayers as a whole. But solar is the highest cost resource in the Southeast. Having a 100 percent solar option would be a significant premium because of that."
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