PSC gives go-ahead for sale of green energy

ATLANTA - The state's largest electric utility is launching a second attempt to offer customers a chance to buy "green power,'' electricity that is generated by renewable sources of energy.

But a member of the Georgia Public Service Commission says a plan approved by the PSC on Tuesday will allow Georgia Power Co. to overcharge for green power, which will dampen sales.

Under the proposal, Georgia Power customers who choose green power will pay a premium of $4.50 per 100 kilowatt hours. That's $1 less than the price the utility was poised to offer three years ago in the first version of the program.

But the lower price is still too much, Commissioner Angela Speir said Tuesday.

She argued that more customers will participate in the program than the 0.38 percent projected by Georgia Power. A higher participation rate would allow the company to spread out the costs, thereby lowering the price, she said.

"A $4.50 premium is clearly too high,'' Speir said. "Three dollars or less is justified.''

Working with the PSC and environmental groups, Georgia Power developed a plan in 2003 to begin offering green power for $5.50 per 100 kilowatt hours. But the program failed to get off the ground after environmentalists objected that the proposed source of the power, landfill gas, did not meet national accreditation standards.

The plan approved by the PSC on Tuesday avoids that issue by declaring that the program will be certified only by a vote of the commission, not through any national organizations.

But Speir argued that failing to seek national accreditation will hurt the program's image in the eyes of some environmentally conscious customers, making them less likely to sign up for green power.

"This is what we call a no-brainer,'' she said. "It will enhance the program for many and detract from the program for none.''

Speir offered an amendment to require Georgia Power to seek national accreditation for the program. However, she lost her motion in a 3-2 vote.

The commission also voted 3-2 to reject a bid by Speir to reduce the premium for green power to $3.50 per 100 kilowatt hours.

Commissioner David Burgess said the premise she based that amendment on - that the program will attract more buyers than the utility is projecting - is uncertain.

"It's still an unknown exactly how many people will sign up and participate,'' he said.

Doug Akin, who manages the green power program for Georgia Power, said the company's projections for customer participation also were limited by the capacity of the contract the utility signed with the provider of the landfill gas. He said there is room to increase the capacity starting in 2009 if the demand is there.

"This allows us to grow with the program,'' he said.

As for the accreditation issue, Akin said seeking national accreditation could have further held up a program that's already three years behind schedule.

After the votes on Speir's amendments, the commission approved the underlying plan unanimously.

Akin said Georgia Power plans to start selling green power next month and incorporate the program into the following billing cycle.