As we celebrate Clean Energy Week, we should also celebrate the strides Georgia is making in improving the lives of Georgians through a more diversified energy portfolio and the expansion of clean and renewable energy.
Much of the credit goes to Public Service Commission Chairman Bubba McDonald, Vice-Chairman Tim Echols and Commissioner Chuck Eaton. They set the table several years ago by expanding solar in Georgia.
In July of this year, Commissioner Tricia Pridemore and I joined them and we unanimously voted to increase renewable energy by more than 30 percent than ever before. Their leadership in expanding clean energy supply has led to lower rates for consumers, and the cost of solar has plummeted from around 17 cents per kilowatt to around three cents per kilowatt.
Our unanimous vote on Georgia’s Integrated Resource Plan will bring over 2,260 megawatts of renewable and clean energy into our state over the next few years. We voted to increase utility solar, distributive generation solar and added biomass energy for the first time. We also raised the behind the meter size limit from 250 kilovolts to 500 kilovolts. The continued diversification of Georgia’s energy profile will lower costs for consumers while adding jobs to our economy.
As rural Georgia is recovering from the impact of two natural disasters and economic uncertainty, renewable energy can be a source of financial relief. It has recently been reported in several areas that solar farms have saved family farms in Georgia by signing long-term contracts, some as long as 35 years.
A family rents a portion of their property for solar farming and the extra income enables them to finance their other agricultural operations on the rest of their property. The economic impact of solar farms has also helped local county governments survive through rough times. In some counties, solar farms have become the largest taxpayer and have even paid for public facilities such as fire and police stations.
I am very proud we voted to include biomass energy in the IRP for the first time. Renewable biomass energy has become an economic engine and is homegrown in my district. Our abundance of agricultural byproduct has translated into a booming biofuel industry. Companies like Georgia Biomass have made us the largest exporter of biomass energy in the world with Europe being our primary market.
Clean and renewable energy has become important to our economy and our quality of life. Georgia is the number one renewable energy state in the country without renewable portfolio standards. We have done it through our tremendous utility partners, policy advocates and the tireless work of the Georgia Public Service Commission staff.
Gov. Kemp has proclaimed the week of September 23-27, as Clean Energy Week in Georgia. I want to join him in recognizing the 76,000 Georgians working in clean energy industries. This week is a tribute to your work in creating a clean energy environment in Georgia that is lowering prices and improving our lives.
Jason Shaw is a statewide public official serving as a commissioner on the Georgia Public Service Commission.