What Georgia Power is afraid of: GaSU and Dr. Smith; and you

So what is Georgia Power afraid of that made their CEO Paul Bowers double down on old-style baseload? Competition, that’s what! What could be more scary in the power-monopoly state of the 1973 Territorial Electric Service Act?

GaSU sun On one side, Georgia Power faces GaSU and its 80 or 90 MW solar plant proposal. Walter C. Jones wrote for OnlineAthens 24 September 2012, Proposed solar company could stir up Georgia’s utility structure,

A proposal from a start-up business promises to lower electricity rates by rebating profits to customers if given a chance to compete as Georgia Power Co.’s “mirror image.”

GaSU fb profile image To proceed with its long-range plan of developing 2 gigawatts of solar power, the start-up, Georgia Solar Utilities Inc., wants to start by building an 80-megawatt “solar farm” near Milledgeville as soon as it gets a green light from the Georgia Public Service Commission. GaSU filed its request last week, and as of Monday, it’s still too fresh for public evaluation.

So radical is the proposal that spokespersons for Georgia Power and the Georgia Solar Energy Association said they still were evaluating it and could not comment.

Groups that normally advocate for customers also are staying quiet.

GaSU executives recognize such a big change won’t come easily.

Robert E. Green “There are obstacles. There’s no question there are obstacles, but you have to look at the rewards,” GaSU President Robert E. Green said at a Capitol news conference. “We don’t know what it’s going to take, but we are prepared to go through legislative action if necessary.”

One reaction to GaSU’s PSC request was foretold in the same article:

Commissioner Chuck Eaton issued a news release saying he had been working with Georgia Power on a proposal for expanded solar that meets his requirement of not boosting customers’ rates. The giant utility is expected to release details soon.

And two days later, Georgia Power announced a PSC proposal to swap its former 210 MW of biomass for the same amount of solar power. Solar Megawatts, 26 September 2012 Which is a drop in the bucket, considering tiny New Jersey already installed 277 MW of solar in the first half of 2012. And remember this feature of Georgia Power’s proposal:

Georgia Power’s plan is to buy no more than 20 megawatts from any one supplier and to purchase 10 megawatts of so-called distributed power in new contracts each of the next three years from homeowners or property owners looking to make a little money from their roof space.

Hm, 20 MW is a lot less than GaSU’s 80 or 90 MW proposal. Convenient, huh? And if that wasn’t enough, a week later Georgia Power’s Bowers doubled down on old-style baseload for the next fifty years. The timing of these two Georgia Power announcements could be coincidence, I suppose. But I think more likely Georgia Power is running scared of GaSU.

Dr. Smith with solar panels in Richmond Hill Meanwhile, remember Dr. Sidney Smith is chipping away at the other end of the price size spectrum with Lower Rates for Customers LLC, which is installing solar panels in customers parking lots, selling them the power, and daring Georgia Power to sue, while deploying solar meters to enable a commodity market in solar power. A solar market through which I could sell the excess of my 15 KW of rooftop solar, getting far more for it than the 4.5 cents Colquitt EMC currently pays me. Colquitt EMC could take a percentage for transport and get bragging rights, so everybody would profit. This is the same thing on rooftop scale that GaSU proposed for its 90MW solar farm, as Walter C. Jones pointed out:

GaSU could build its solar farm without action by the state legislature or the PSC, and existing federal law would require Georgia Power to buy its electricity. But it would only pay GaSU an amount equal to what it could buy electricity from its cheapest wholesale supplier.

John S. Quarterman and Gretchen Quarterman with farm workshop solar panels at Okra Paradise Farms The start-up wants instead to sell its electricity directly to retail customers who would be billed by Georgia Power or the other existing utilities, similar to how natural gas is marketed here. GaSU would pay the utilities for the use of their wires in the electric grid and any profits would be shared with customers like a cooperative.

You could profit too: such a market would enable private financing for solar such as you can already get in Tennessee, California, Oregon, New Jersey, Monopoly man or many other states. But not yet in Georgia, because of the 1973 Electric Territorial Act. That’s right, Georgia Power is scared of you, because if you can generate your own power, you might buy less from them, and they might not be able to milk big baseload plants like they do now. Nevermind that if they got out in front on this change that’s going to happen sooner or later they could actually profit more than now (more on that later). Georgia Power is afraid of you, and Dr. Smith, and GaSU.

GaSU has an online petition to the state of Georgia, posted by Shane Owl-Greason. For more information, GaSU’s facebook page has occasional updates, and is at least more informative than their website, which doesn’t even list Robert E. Green or Shane Owl-Greason or anybody else as executives or otherwise associated with the company. I wonder if a company that wants to change the bedrock Georgia monopoly law, the 1973 Electric Territorial Act, might not get more public support if they were a bit more transparent, instead of more opaque than Georgia Power.

Sun and power lines Eventually, GaSU and Dr. Smith, or others like them, will win. Georgia Power and its parent the Southern Company (SO) could go ahead and lead now, or they can keep stonewalling and dragging Georgia still farther behind New Jersey and most other states. We have an opportunity right now in this election to replace two GA PSC members and multiple legislators, or at least to give them such a fright as recently caused Snapping Shoals EMC to ditch coal. Snapping Shoals probably remembered Cobb EMC waiting until a majority of its board was replaced before it switched from coal to solar for new plants. How long will Georgia Power and SO wait?

The solar train is leaving the station, and it’s time for Georgia to get on board. If you’re tired of SO playing us all for rubes and shovelling money into that nuclear pit on the Savannah River instead of getting on with solar and wind, you can get out and early vote this month or on election day November 6th.