BROWN: Counting the cost of Georgia's solar bill

While scripture admonishes us to “count the cost” before we undertake a large project, the same is true when considering a piece of legislation. In the case of Senate Bill 459, a piece of legislation dealing with solar power, the true cost of the bill’s consequences could end up hurting most electricity customers in Georgia.

Today, Georgians are free to install solar and wind power capacity for their own use at their discretion. For those who can afford them, such "off-the-grid" installations can reduce power bills without disrupting the operation of the power grid that serves all of us. In other words, under current law, the decisions of some when it comes to renewable energy don't affect the rest of us.

The proposed law changes that by allowing private developers of renewable energy to provide renewable energy, primarily solar power, to customers of their choosing. These new installations would be much larger than a simple residential rooftop solar array. And financed by a private third-party developer, their solar energy offerings would offer many a way to use solar power without the high capital cost (many thousands of dollars in most cases) of buying and installing solar panels themselves. Sounds good, right?

But let's remember Luke 14:28, which asks, "For which of you, intending to build a tower, sits not down first, and counts the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it?" Or in this case, are lawmakers considering who will actually pay for the proposal? Are they counting the cost to electricity customers?

The fatal flaw of the proposal is that it requires regulated power providers to basically treat the new renewable installations as their own, tying them into the grid, installing the transmission lines they need, and accounting for all of the consequences for when the sun doesn't shine. Who pays for all of these added costs? All power customers will, meaning that Georgians unable or unwilling to pay the cost for solar will be coughing up more on their power bill for those who do. Doesn't sound so good anymore, does it?

We've seen a similar situation already in the United States where subsidies have had unintended consequences. In Hawaii, a select group of power customers have saved themselves about $7.4 million in electricity costs by installing solar panels. While the savings was certainly good for them, the millions of dollars in lost revenue to their regulated utility would have been used to pay for a number of fixed costs. To make up for the shortfall, Hawaiian Electric is now being forced to raise its rates between half-a-cent and 1.7 cents per kilowatt/hour. That's about $10 per month per customer on the high end.

You see, no electricity customer lives on an island, even if you do live in Hawaii. The same is true in Georgia. Even customers who buy solar energy remain connected to the grid, taking advantage of services and infrastructure for which they won't fully pay. In other words, those who can't afford or don't want solar power will pick up the slack.

Tripling Hawaii's residential solar capacity sounded like a good idea, but it was too good to be true. Leaders in that state obviously didn't count the cost. Georgia lawmakers should avoid making the same mistake with this proposed legislation. Very few voters will be happy paying higher power bills.

Lance Brown is executive director of the Partnership for Affordable Clean Energy (PACE), a nonprofit organization that is fighting for sensible American energy policy and affordable power rates.


samnevils 3 years, 5 months ago

Wow, would we really expect a different response from an organization that is connected to Southern Company?? Throw in a few bible quotes and picture of a squeaky clean looking kid next door type and you would think that those who want a lower energy bill are the devil incarnate.


RiggaTony 3 years, 5 months ago

Mr. Brown is right to cite Bible passages in his argument against this bill. If God had wanted us to harness the power of the sun for energy, he would have made it a finite resource that is only capable of being recovered by the most industrious individuals, who could then sell it to the common people at a mark up. I think those of us that pay attention to the real media already know that God is a capitalist.


Jan 3 years, 5 months ago

Who pays the bills at PACE? I did a little research and discovered that Partnership for Affordable Clean Energy (PACE) is another one of those right wing organizations that misrepresent themselves through the name. They are for "clean" coal, natural gas, and other carbon based fuels to drive generators. I researched the claim about Hawaii increased costs. Facts about Hawaii: 90% of the fuel must be imported. This means that basic fuel costs are higher in Hawaii than any other state. To help put this in prospective, gas prices in Hawaii are averaging around $4.30 according to a quick google search. Lance Brown would have you believe that the recent small increase in power is due to many homes putting in residential solar units, forcing the power company to increase prices on other customers. The Power companies (each island power systems are separate) of Hawaii statement indicates the cause is solely increase price of imported fuel and are encouraging people to put in solar systems to reduce this dependance on imported fuel. Please, do not be fooled by biased arguments so obviously intended to support a single industry. Solar and wind are the most abundant renewable source and power farms are already paying off. As we utilize the technology, it will be improved and cost will come down.


charlesg 3 years, 5 months ago

"In Hawaii, a select group of power customers have saved themselves about $7.4 million in electricity costs by installing solar panels. While the savings was certainly good for them, the millions of dollars in lost revenue to their regulated utility would have been used to pay for a number of fixed costs. To make up for the shortfall, Hawaiian Electric is now being forced to raise its rates "


Energy Financial Investor A demanded a high ROI from Power Company B. B, not being able to foresee the change in public demand for traditional energy sources, raises rates on their customers to make up for mismanagement. A better solution is to lower energy rates, develop load-balancing networked grids for their customer base, decentralize staff and support personnel, all whilst admitting to ourselves that the sooner we stop lighting hydrocarbons on fire, the healthier.


ccollier 3 years, 5 months ago

See Jack's article on "Don't Blame it on the Sun" - he does some numbers for Georgia Power that they won't tell you about.


kathh 3 years, 5 months ago

The Executive Director of this PACE organization is in over his head....SB 459 is NOT about PPA's....before he fumbles his way through an editorial he should do his homework. His PR stunt smacks of corporate money paid to those who dare write whatever they are told to.

SB 401 is the bill that is about 3rd-party PPA's...systems installed so that Georgia residents and businesses can afford renewable energy generated ON THEIR property...not energy that is transmitted over ANY Georgia Power transmission lines ....NOT energy that would undermine Georgia Power's grid-balancing nor in some way cost ANYONE in this state more on their monthly bill.

People need to do their own thinking on SB 401...don't be fooled to listen to those who have a private agenda nor those corporations whose skill at disinformation disguises their true intent...in this case: to keep 3rd-party entities from helping Georgia residents control their escalating power bills.


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