Georgia Magazine - July 2013 - (Page 15)

Georgia’s energy outlook BY HILL BENTLEY AND GREG MULLIS, TRI-COUNTY EMC, AND BILL VERNER, GEMC H Sunlight is free ... solar power is not ouse Bill 657 was introduced in March 2013, self-titled the “Rural Georgia Economic Recovery and Solar Resource Act of 2014.” The bill purports to expand solar electric generation in Georgia, creating a monopoly “community solar provider” from which an electric utility1 would be required to purchase a set minimum amount of energy at rates2 established by the Public Service Commission (PSC). Who pays for the necessary backup generation for solar power to ensure an uninterrupted supply of electrical energy? Georgia’s electric membership cooperatives (EMCs) encourage the smart implementation of renewable energy. In fact, Georgia’s electric co-ops were the first utilities in the state to offer renewable energy through Green Power EMC. But creating winners and losers through legislative action like HB 657 is the wrong approach. Solar power is one of the oldest productive sources of energy, so why isn’t it utilized more in the generation of electricity? Most electric utilities, whether owned and operated by a municipality for its citizens, an investor-owned utility like Georgia Power or a member-owned electric cooperative, often are criticized for not using enough “free” solar energy to power the grid. There are major questions that must be addressed when solar powHB 657’s proponents claim the legislation only applies to Georgia Power, but there are significant ramifications to all electricity customers and to sound energy policy in Georgia. 1 HB 657’s “community solar provider”—a de facto solar monopoly—selected by the PSC would be guaranteed a profit under terms established by the PSC. A law that requires a minimum purchase of solar energy at a price that guarantees a profit will be a great deal for the lone “community solar provider” selected should HB 657 become law, but we are at a loss to understand how such a proposal will benefit consumers. 2 July 2013 er is compared to nuclear, coal and natural gas as a viable alternative. For instance: Who pays for the necessary backup generation for solar power to ensure an uninterrupted supply of electrical energy? backup source for solar generation, as they can be turned on quickly to meet demand, but these turbines and the fuel they use aren’t free, and all consumers foot the bill to ensure they are ready when needed. Obligation to serve Solar power doesn’t count (significantly) to meet required generation reserves Critics typically fail to acknowledge a fundamental statutory requirement for all electric utilities: the obligation to serve reliable and affordable electricity 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. This obligation to serve requires electric utilities to provide safe, reliable electric service to all customers without discrimination. In addition, utilities must have an infrastructure plan in place to meet projected demand up to 20 years into the future. The remarkable success in meeting this obligation for more than 70 years has unfortunately lulled most of us to take for granted what is required to provide electricity for our homes and businesses. Solar power is being responsibly incorporated into utility scale generation portfolios and at hundreds of small-scale locations throughout the state, but more importantly, all consumers are paying for their utility to keep the lights on whether or not the sun is shining. Marginal value at peak demand Solar power is only available for a few hours on sunny days. In winter, consumer demand for most Georgia EMCs peaks in the morning hours before the sunrise. In the summer, EMCs’ peak consumer demand is greatest from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., when solar power makes its daily decline toward zero. Simply put: For every kilowatt of solar panels installed, consumers are paying for almost a full kW of backup generation for when the sun isn’t shining. Natural gas-fired turbines are the preferred More online at Utilities are also required to maintain a margin of surplus generation reserves—roughly 10-15 percent—to prevent interruptions to power supply, and these reserves are paid for by consumers in monthly power bills. Intermittent resources like solar cannot count toward a utility’s reserve margin in a meaningful way since it cannot be turned on at a moment’s notice. In a nutshell, having solar power on the grid does not eliminate the need for investment in reliable, 24/7 resources like coal, nuclear and natural gas. We hope this article has shed some light on the realities of solar power, and helps explain our headline “Sunlight is free ... solar power is not.” Cooperatives have two purposes: to provide safe, reliable electric energy to their members and to keep the cost for that energy as low as possible for all. Look for more discussion on solar power in GEORGIA Magazine, and visit the Georgia General Assembly’s website,, to read HB 657. Visit map to see how solar is progressing remarkably well in Georgia without legislative intervention. Go to gemc/2012energyreport to learn more about how you can make your home or business a good steward of energy resources, and, as always, contact your local EMC for help as well. 15

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Georgia Magazine - July 2013

Georgia Magazine - July 2013
Liberty Notes
Picture This?
Georgia News
Calendar of Events
Georgia’s Energy Outlook
Fly-in or Drive-In
“Air Fare America”
Wood Basket of the World
Link to Video on Georgia’s Tree Industry
Lighten Up!
Control What You Consume
Around Georgia
Enhancing your adventure
My Georgia
Georgia Gardens
More Snapshot photos
Plant of the month
July’s online trivia contest
Georgia Grown spotlight

Georgia Magazine - July 2013