• Solar power industry sees rays of growth in Georgia

    By: MARY LANDERS, The Savannah Morning News

    Updated:
    SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) - The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy last week released "Solar in the Southeast 2018," its second annual report on solar expansion.

    "Solar growth continues in the Southeast (adding 65 percent in 2018)," the report states. "The region will surpass 10,000 MW in 2019. SACE now anticipates 19,000 MW by 2022, up from our prior projection of 15,000 by 2021."

    The nonprofit compared the amount of solar installed by each utility relative to the number of customers it serves, a measure described as watts per customer.

    "This analysis in our second regional solar report shines a light on the utilities and states that excel in smart solar growth and demonstrates the enormous potential that remains in the Southeast for increased solar development," said Stephen A. Smith, executive director of Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

    "Using the unbiased watts per customer metric, we are also able to see which states and utilities are continuing to fall behind and need a serious course correction to avoid denying customers the economic and environmental and benefits of clean solar power. We hope that the facts presented in this report will continue to serve as a helpful tool as utilities and regulators throughout the region advance in their renewable energy planning."

    Georgia and the state's largest utility, Georgia Power, are still regional leaders in solar, but other states and are catching up and some are pulling ahead. For example, the state's watts per customer solar ratio last year of 280 is higher than the Southeast average of 269, but will require "additional ambition to avoid falling below average by 2022," they report.

    The alliance suggests the Georgia Public Service Commission could demand additional solar development in the Georgia Power 2019 Integrated Resource Plan, a required three-year plan that regulators began hearings about last week, and sustain Georgia's solar leadership.

    Georgia Power came up fourth among the large utilities in the region with 426 watts of solar installed per customer. That's down from third last year. In first place is Duke Energy Progress with 1,625 watts per customer.

    "While reports show our dominance in solar slipping by 2021, I anticipate the Public Service Commission adding a gigawatt, possibly two gigawatts, keeping us near the top of the list," Public Service Commissioner Tim Echols said.

    The leading utility, Duke Energy Progress, has been aided by North Carolina laws along with favorable regulatory terms required by the North Carolina Utilities Commission for independent power providers. In Georgia, the push has been a regulatory one from the PSC.

    The PSC directed Georgia Power to develop an Advanced Solar Initiative in 2012, which led to the development of more than 700 megawatts of solar. Georgia Power also collaborated with the Department of Defense to develop 166 megawatts of solar on military bases. An agreement with the PSC in 2016 led the current plan to add 1,600 megawatts of solar, wind, and/or biomass resources by 2020.

    The PSC's model favors utility-scale solar over residential rooftop. But the clean energy goals of Atlanta and Athens may be shifting that stance.

    "I would like to see more rooftop solar in Georgia - particularly in Atlanta and Athens to help with their 100 percent clean energy goals," said Echols. "We could help these cities by raising the limit of both array size and buyback price for rooftop solar in their jurisdictions."

    Georgia Power is proposing in its 2019 IRP to add 950 megawatts of utility scale and 50 megawatts of distributed (rooftop) solar, said PSC Chairman Lauren "Bubba" McDonald.

    "I predict there will be a bit more solar than what Georgia Power suggested," said McDonald, an early solar champion who at 80 has said he will not seek reelection in 2020 but will serve out his term. "There will be a greater effort to expand the distributed generation. To what level I don't know."

    Echols said he plans to "support any measure (McDonald) puts forward in both distributed generation and utility scale."

    The newest commissioner, Jason Shaw, who was appointed after Doug Everett resigned before the end of his term in November, said he's keeping an open mind on solar.

    "At this point, we have heard from Georgia Power Co. and look forward to hearing more from the various interveners," he said. "Georgia has been a leader in the solar market and I look for that to continue as long as it makes sense for ratepayers."

    SACE supports utility scale, as well as mid-size community or industrial solar - like the ground-mounted array at the Sea Point industrial park on East President Street where 4,000 solar panels were installed earlier this year - and rooftop.

    But Georgia also doesn't have a policy champion for rooftop solar. Without proactive policies like net metering, it takes homeowners longer to get their return on rooftop solar.

    Other states support distributed generation solar more vigorously. Legislation pending in South Carolina will extend net metering, SACE reports. The Florida Public Service Commission approved solar lease designs to promote further growth and opportunity. Florida utilities are also advancing shared/community solar programs to expand access for customers interested in solar.

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    Information from: Savannah Morning News, http://www.savannahnow.com

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