Why and how you can help bring solar power to Georgia

Foot-dragging utilities have stalled SB 401, which would facilitate generating and selling of solar power in Georgia. Here’s why and how you can help fix that.

John Sibley wrote for SaportaReport Sunday, Solar power bill would give Georgians more choices Have you gotten used to thinking you have no choice on your power

Times are changing. More and more of us are discovering choices for managing our power costs. Beyond the time-honored practice of turning off the lights leaving the room, we can find light bulbs that pay for themselves in a year or so; and we can find appliances, water heaters, and air conditioners that pay for themselves in a few years. After that, the savings are like getting part of your power free.

Now, on-site solar power has become an economical option for many. Deals for rooftop solar panels can be done in Georgia today that will provide power for 25 years for as little as 10 cents per kilowatt-hour. Many Georgians can save money from day one. Since rates in Georgia have gone up 49 percent in seven years, they can also protect themselves against increases.

More and more Georgians are choosing on-site solar, but

not all can. The upfront costs are too high for some. The cost is usually too much for schools, churches, governments and other non-profit organizations, which often have perfect locations for solar installations, because they cannot take advantage of tax incentives available to others.

Across the country, free enterprise has responded by doing what it does best. It has come up with a financing product, called a power purchase agreement, or PPA, that makes solar power available to those who are otherwise excluded from the market.

Under a typical PPA, the installer retains ownership of the solar equipment, and the customer makes monthly payments that are based on the output of the panels. A PPA allows the customer to choose solar power without any upfront costs or maintenance risks, and it makes the tax incentives available to private parties who can use them. A PPA can reduce the cost of solar for schools, churches, governments, and non-profits by 40 to 50 percent.

PPAs can be used in most states.

In Georgia, however, the power companies say that they are against the law. The utilities concede that a solar system for on-site use is perfectly legal if the customer pays cash upfront or can get a loan or a lease with a flat monthly payment.

But if the monthly payment is based on output (as it would be in the lease of a copier based on the number of copies), the power companies will object to the deal and threaten a lawsuit to stop it.

Because the utilities think they own the sunshine. Georgia Power opposes SB 401 and Lower Rates for Customers. SB 401 is the Georgia Senate Bill that proposes to fix these problems, enabling a commodity market in distributed solar power. Utilities could profit by taking a percentage, private investment could build big generating plants, and county and city governments could become self-supporting from the sun.
How can a customer’s choice to manage energy on the customer’s private property become against the law because a lease payment is based on output instead of a flat amount?
Because Georgia Power is still peddling the same old disinformation.
The legislation in the General Assembly, originally proposed as SB 401, just allows one additional choice to manage rising power costs by private contract on private property. It creates no risks for power companies or other customers that are different from when customers now choose energy efficiency or solar for cash.

The General Assembly should find a way to pass this legislation.

I agree. You can help by calling your state senator or by signing the petition.