A clean energy leader

Troy Von Otnott is founder of Massive Technologies, an Atlanta-based Social Impact Investment & Advisory Firm.Steve Valk is communications director for Citizens Climate Lobby.

Georgia is one of the fastest growing solar energy states in the country. This is due in part to Georgia Power’s Advanced Solar Initiative, a plan to add more than 700 megawatts of new utility scale commercial solar into its energy portfolio mix. While important, to truly become a leader in the advanced energy economy, Georgia must develop a distributed generation solar market – i.e. rooftop solar – and with the help of legislation like State Rep. Mike Dudgeon’s HB 57, the Solar Power Free-Market Financing Act of 2015, the Peach State is well on its way.

This legislation has the support of the Sierra Club, the Green Tea Party, Southern Company, more than 40 Georgia-based EMCs, municipalities and the Metro Atlanta Chamber. This free-market, financing legislation will give residential and small business owners free choice in how to power their buildings and opens the marketplace to third-party financing, which currently underwrites more than 80 percent of solar installations in the country. In February the bill sailed through the House. Passage in the Senate seems all but assured.

As we make solar energy easier for Georgia homeowners to obtain, we can also make it more attractive by putting a national price on carbon that factors in the true cost of fossil fuels. The best approach – recently proposed by former Secretary of State George Shultz in the Washington Post – is a steadily-rising fee on the carbon dioxide content of such fuels, with revenue from the fee returned to households.

A study of this proposal, known as Carbon Fee and Dividend, found that in 20 years CO2 emissions would be cut in half and 2.8 million jobs would be added to the economy, primarily because of the economic stimulus of recycling revenue into pockets of people likely to spend the money.

Because solar is the fastest-growing energy source in the U.S., there are a number of utility companies fighting this inevitable transition to clean energy, including one in Arizona where a $50 monthly fee will be imposed for rooftop solar customers. We’re fortunate, however, to have a progressive Public Service Commission that sees through this false narrative that homeowners who choose a clean energy option for residential power generation are somehow not contributing to the expense of electrical grid maintenance.

Studies conducted on solar cite many benefits for power companies: avoided energy generation; avoided transmission losses; less need to purchase expensive power during peak usage; the financial benefits of a fossil fuel price hedge; less need for expensive peak power plant construction; enhanced security from attacks on our currently centralized power grid stations.

Last but not least, of course, are the environmental benefits of clean energy utilization – cleaner air, water and fewer greenhouse gas emissions that impact on our global climate.

Significantly building capacity to Georgia’s renewable energy industry will also help the state meet the EPA’s flexible Clean Power Plan requirements for a 30 GHG emissions reduction by 2030 while simultaneously growing our local economy. In fact, a recent report by the International Energy Agency noted, for the first time in 40 years, there’s been a halt or reduction in global GHG emissions not tied to an economic downturn and not resulting in economic devastation.

Some of the fastest-growing economies are doing the most to combat carbon emissions while growing jobs at the same time. The international agency found that while the rich countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development grew about 7 percent over a four-year period, emissions fell 4 percent.

Georgia is a relative latecomer to the solar-energy boom, but with initiatives underway to increase Georgia Power’s use of solar and legislation making roof-top solar an affordable option for homeowners, our state can be a leader in the nation’s clean energy economy.

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