Georgia Power wants to charge you for your solar power

Georgia Sierra Club’s Seth Gunning batted away Georgia Power’s proposed solar tax, which would charge about $22 a month for many new home solar installations. GA PSC needs to call Georgia Power’s proposal out, because it was a bad idea when Dominion Power did it in Virginia, and it would be a worse idea here in sunny Georgia. Besides, Austin Energy already established that the purported basis for such a solar tax is nonsense: actually, utilities should be paying more for home solar power because of the benefits they receive.

Jonathan Shapiro wrote for WABE yesterday, Georgia Power’s Proposed Solar Tariff Scrutinized,

The company is proposing an average tariff of about $22 per month for new home solar systems that aren’t a part of Georgia Power-sponsored solar initiatives.

Company officials argue the tariff is necessary because most solar users still require the power grid as a back-up when the sun isn’t shining. As solar use spreads, the company stands to collect less revenue from those customers. What doesn’t change is the cost to maintain the grid. Georgia Power says non-solar customers shouldn’t have to bear all the costs.

“We don’t want to contribute to the problem of shifting costs so before we do that we very much prefer to get these tariffs right so all customers benefit,” said Roberts.

PSC Chairman Chuck Eaton wondered if the tariff is about making up for lost revenue, why not consider new fees for any number of energy efficiency measures.

“What makes solar unique?” asked Eaton.

Roberts responded: “If a customer goes out and puts in a lot of insulation in their home or buys a more efficient heat pump or other things, their load every hour of the day is now less. But with a distributed generator out there, especially a solar one, what’s happening is sometimes Georgia Power is supplying the customers’ load and sometimes that generator is supplying that load, but the load hasn’t changed, the underlying load hasn’t changed.”

That is of course nonsense. When rooftop solar is generating, it’s first used directly by the building it’s sitting on, without going through the utility’s grid at all. This is why utilities like to pay what they call the “avoided cost” for power generated by rooftop solar: it’s the cost the utility does not pay to generate the same amount of power. What utilities really hate about rooftop solar is it generates the most at peak load in the afternoon when the utilities charge the most, so rooftop solar cuts into utility profit, as the utility think tank Edison Electric Institute warned them earlier this year. GA PSC knows this.

Solar advocates like the Sierra Club’s Seth Gunning had a more pointed take.

“We think Georgia Power’s attempt to pass basically a solar tax for folks who are putting solar on their homes and using free sunshine for electricity is a targeted attack on clean energy.”

A Georgia Power spokesman rejected that charge and said the company is simply trying to protect the interests of all ratepayers, not just solar users.

Yeah, sure, Georgia Power; a few months ago you claimed solar power would raise customer rates for everybody else until that was disproved and GA PSC required more solar power. Now you’re making another ridiculous claim that’s just not true. While asking GA PSC to raise rates on everybody:

The state Public Service Commission held its second day of hearings on a Georgia Power request to charge residential ratepayers about $8 more per month.

Georgia Power is just copying Dominion Power, which got the Virginia State Corporation Commission (SCC) to approve a “standby charge” for customers who generate 10 to 20 kilowatts of solar power.

Todd Allen Wilson wrote for Daily Press 2 December 2011, Regulators approve Dominion standby charge solar advocates worry: Power company says only one customer will be affected as of now,

The SCC agreed with Dominion, saying in its final order last Wednesday, “the evidence in this record indicates that any avoided cost benefits provided by customer-generators, at least in terms of the transmission and distribution grid, are insufficient to pay for their proportionate share of the grid.”

Discouraging industry

Corsello said Dominion has no intention of trying to get the standby charge to residential customers with smaller solar energy systems, which would require a change in state law, but critics say this move by the power company is “the camel’s nose under the tent.”

The assistant director of the Sierra Club Virginia chapter, J.R. Tolbert, said in a statement the commission’s decision allows Dominion to continue its “its monopolistic stranglehold on Virginia’s electricity generation.”

“Generating electricity from renewable sources, in this case solar panels installed on rooftops, is to be encouraged, not punished,” he said. “Once again, Dominion is allowed to be the bully for its bottom line.”

Dominion Power’s answer to that:

Wouldn’t the Standby Charge result in discouraging installation of large solar-powered systems using net metering?
Virginia law specifically requires homeowners with large alternative systems to pay their fair share of Dominion’s infrastructure costs to have the wires and equipment available to them when their alternative system isn’t available. In this case, customers with large alternative systems would still have lower monthly electric bills than those without them.

Translation: sure, it will discourage solar, and we got it made into law!

Meanwhile, Austin Energy did a real study of distributed solar generation benefits and discovered that:

These included not only the actual electricity produced but also the elimination of line losses as well as costs the utility could avoid by not building, or even delaying, construction on more generation. “If you put off a billion-dollar decision for one year, that’s at five percent interest,” said [Karl] Rabago. “It’s a big savings in cash each year.”

In the end, Austin Energy determined that net metering was actually shortchanging solar customers. Now the utility credits homeowners who have installed solar at a rate three cents higher than retail for every kilowatt-hour produced, which could mean the near elimination of utility bills for some of Austin’s customers. And Austin’s new arrangement does something else that’s different from traditional net metering arrangements. While customers receive more credit for the solar energy they make, they are still charged at regular retail rates for the electricity they consume. “You have a cloudy month where the utility has to provide a lot of electricity, then they collect what they need to,” said Rabago. “This was a major internal selling point.”

So distributed rooftop solar is win-win for everybody, and Austin Energy still wins by paying more for solar-generated electricity.

But Dominion Power and Georgia Power aren’t satisfied with winning: they want a greedy gouging tax more.

Let’s stop them.

Eventually Georgia Power and its parent Southern Company will get it that we’re not going to put up with their petty profiteering anymore and maybe even realize they’ll profit more if they get on with a smart grid to integrate rooftop solar, much of which they themselves can install and own, leading Georgia and the southeast in becoming net exporters of solar and wind energy.


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