Georgia Power has opportunities to lead in solar power

John S. Quarterman

Thanks Valdosta Daily Times for your Sunday solar story and editorial!

Your editorial’s “buyer beware” would better be directed towards the electric utilities, which set up the price mismatch that caused the problem for the customer in your story.

The story says, citing John Kraft of Georgia Power, “The utility company offers to pay the producer only as much as it costs to produce solar power. If a utility company can produce solar energy at a solar farm for five cents per unit, it isn’t going to pay a residential producer a higher rate for energy it doesn’t need.”

If Georgia Power does not need new energy, why is it building two new nuclear units at Plant Vogtle and charging its customers in advance every month? Four years ago, Google already bought more sun and wind power than that nuclear boondoggle would produce if it’s ever finished, and for less than the Plant Vogtle cost overruns. Those cost overruns keep going up, and the cost of solar panels keeps going down.

The story says Kraft asks people why they want solar power. Maybe to reduce arbitrary charges for things like nuclear boondoggles.

Also Georgia is the sixth most expensive state for energy costs, according to a study by WalletHub quoted in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. And it’s the customer’s roof and the customer’s money, so why should they have to justify themselves to Georgia Power for supplying energy back to the grid at no cost to the utility?

A better question is why is Georgia Power still wasting its customers’ money and a federal guarantee at all our expense on a failed quagmire of a nuclear project that bankrupted its builder, Toshiba?

The story says “nuclear plants, which produce a constant output when operating.” Aye, there’s the rub: “when operating.” All of Southern Company’s nuclear plants have been down days, weeks, and months in the past several years, according to Nuclear Regulatory Commission data, sometimes scheduled, sometimes not.

Hatch 2, 100 miles east of us on the Altamaha River, was down most of February 2017. Vogtle 1, 200 miles northeast of us on the Savannah River, was down the last half of March. Hatch 1 was down a couple of days in January and most of April. And Vogtle units 3 and 4 are still not operating after the Georgia legislature approved those monthly customer charges back in 2009.

Cloudy Germany, as far north as Calgary, Alberta, Canada, is the world leader in solar energy and renewable solar and wind power have improved Germany’s electrical grid reliability. Yet Georgia Power still trots out old canards about solar power being unreliable and Georgia being cloudy.

Even though in the story Georgia Power admits it knows how to increase grid reliability: buy solar and wind power in many different places.

My electric utility, Colquitt Electric, was smart enough not to buy into Plant Vogtle. But CEMC charges me 10 cents per kilowatt hour and pays me only 4.5 cents, on the same “avoided cost” theory as Georgia Power uses. My 15 kilowatts of solar panels drive my bill way down, but if CEMC paid the same as they charge, they’d be paying me every month.

All the utility excuses for not paying one-to-one were busted years ago, first by a study by Austin Energy in 2013, then by the state of Minnesota in 2014. Customer solar energy generation reduces wear on utility lines because most of that solar power is used behind the meter and never travels through the wires.

Loss of electricity while traveling through the lines is reduced because less travels through the lines. Solar power is distributed and robust in the face of storms that take down lines: when the sun comes out, solar panels are generating again. The cost of financing new generating plants is reduced because customers supply more energy.

So why do utilities try to stop their customers from financing local solar generation? Because, as the electric utility thinktank, Edison Electric Institute, warned back in 2013, solar power generates the most in mid-afternoon, when utilities traditionally charge the most, which means solar power is a disruptive challenge such as utilities have never faced before, and if they don’t get ahead of it they may go the way of AT&T Long Lines when the internet exploded.

Later in the story, “Kraft said the company has made a huge commitment to renewable energy.” Yes, and I congratulated Georgia Power and its parent, the Southern Company, for that at the Southern Company Stockholder meeting in May.

As SO CEO Tom Fanning said, “Oh, solar power? Oh, heck yeah!”

Also in the VDT study: “‘We have one of the biggest voluntary solar expansions in the nation,’ Kraft said.” Well, voluntary in the sense that the Georgia Public Service Commission twice (in 2013 and 2015) required Georgia Power to buy about twice as much solar power as it wanted to.

I’m proud to say I’m one of two WWALS board members who testified along with many others to the GA-PSC in June 2013 before their decision in July 2013.

At this year’s Southern Company stockholder meeting, after I reminded Tom Fanning that it was five years since I first asked him what was his exit plan when his Big Bet on Plant Vogtle goes bad, I asked him to lead the Southeast, the country, and the world in solar power.

He said he’d lead if tax breaks were favorable and solar kept selling, but meanwhile SO was reducing last year’s $4.5 billion in renewable energy investments to $1.5 million this year.

I don’t think that word “lead” means what Southern Company and Georgia Power seem to think it means.

If Georgia Power really wants to help Georgians get solar power, let Georgia Power pay its solar customers as much per kilowatt-hour as its customers pay Georgia Power.

I have plunked down deposits for two Tesla Powerwalls to store my solar energy, and they will greatly even up the “avoided price” problem by reducing my needs to buy from my utility.

Southern Company has some sort of storage deal with Tesla. If Georgia Power wants to help Georgians, let’s see Georgia Power finance and sell Powerwalls to its customers.

Oh, and let’s see Georgia Power end its failed Big Bet on Plant Vogtle. You can help make that happen by writing or calling GA-PSC today: gapsc@psc.state.ga.us, (800) 282-5813, Georgia Public Service Commission, 244 Washington Street SW, Atlanta GA, 30334-9052.

John S. Quarterman of Hahira is the Suwannee Riverkeeper, which is a staff position and a project of WWALS Watershed Coalition as the member of the Waterkeeper Alliance for the Suwannee River basin. contact@suwanneeriverkeeper.org 

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