Georgia’s elected utility regulators gave a nod Tuesday to companies looking to compete with Georgia Power on solar energy, but it didn’t come without a fight.
New start-up Georgia Solar Utilities is planning to ask state lawmakers for a monopoly on the sale of solar power in the state to compete with Georgia Power’s 40-year-old monopoly on the sale of all electricity within its territory.
In a highly contentious meeting, the Public Service Commission voted to support efforts to clear the way—legally—for more solar, without endorsing Georgia Solar Utilities by name.
The resolution was purely symbolic, but significant, argued Commissioner Lauren "Bubba" McDonald, who has made no secret of his support for Georgia Solar's plan.
"I believe that this is in the best interest of Georgians, that this commission take the appropriate action to encourage parties [...] to bring innovative solutions to our consideration," McDonald said.
But Commissioner Stan Wise, who has made no secret of his opposition to Georgia Solar’s proposal, bristled at notion that the commission would endorse a private, for-profit company's legislative agenda. "That is inappropriate," he said.
McDonald shot back that regulators pick and choose among private companies all the time.
The motion passed 3-2, not without Wise sneaking in this parting dig: "Will we wear our commission badges when we lobby the legislature or will we wear our Georgia Solar badges, commissioners?"
With that accusation of conflict-of-interest, the ball is now in the Georgia General Assembly's court.
In the same meeting though, commissioners unanimously approved Georgia Power's plan to swap solar for biomass in its energy portfolio, after the company postponed plans to convert the coal-fired Plant Mitchell near Albany into a biomass-burning plant.
Between the advancement of these two competing plans to expand solar energy, it was a good day for Georgia electricity customers, said Elena Parent, executive director of the consumer advocacy organization Georgia Watch.
"We’re very pleased to see that there is more discussion and opportunities for solar power here in Georgia and a recognition that solar power will be a good thing for consumers," Parent said. "But we’re always mindful of consumer’s pocketbooks and keeping utility rates low."
Georgia Watch, like most advocates, is staying neutral in the fight between Georgia Power and Georgia Solar Utilities until both plans are closer to reality.