The Georgia Public Service Commission approved a plan by Georgia Power Co.Tuesday to acquire an additional 210 megawatts of solar generating capacity, more than tripling its investment in solar energy.
But a sharply divided PSC also gave a potential competitor to Georgia Power its blessing to appeal to the General Assembly to amend a 39-year-old law that gives the Atlanta-based utility the exclusive right to continue serving existing customers.
Under Georgia Power’s Advanced Solar Initiative, the company will buy solar power produced by both large “utility-scale” solar farms and from smaller projects operated by residential and commercial property owners.
Georgia Power, a unit of Southern Co., currently has 61.5 megawatts of solar energy under contract, enough to power about 7,600 hours.
That first foray into solar power two years ago was “a baby step” for the company and the PSC, Commissioner Lauren “Bubba” McDonald said Tuesday.
“This is a much bigger step the company is coming forward with,” he said. “It recognizes the value of solar generation and the effect it can have for consumers of our state.”
While the PSC supported Georgia Power’s plan unanimously, a subsequent motion by McDonald encouraging other solar utilities interested in serving Georgia to pursue their plans with the legislature passed by the narrow margin of 3-2.
Georgia Solar Utilities Inc., a company launched in Macon, Ga., earlier this year, filed an application with the PSC in September for authority to generate solar energy in Georgia on a utility scale.
But the commission’s staff recommended that the PSC dismiss the application, citing the 1973 Georgia Territorial Electric Service Act.
Rather than dismiss the proposal outright, however, the commission in essence urged Georgia Solar Utilities to appeal to the General Assembly to amend that law and open up the solar business to competition.
Commissioner Doug Everett, who supported the motion, argued that Georgia will need all the additional solar capacity it can get if the Obama administration regulates coal out of existence as a source of energy and curtails the new “fracking” technology that has made natural gas supplies more readily available.
“Where are we going to get the [power] generation to replace the coal industry?” Everett asked. “We’ve got to look at everything.”
But Commissioner Stan Wise said the PSC has no business taking sides on an issue likely to go before Georgia lawmakers.
“If they’re successful across the street, so be it,” he said, referring to the location of the state Capitol. “[But] for us to involve ourselves in what goes on across the street is inappropriate.”
Robert Green, CEO of Georgia Solar Utilities, said his company is prepared to fight for its right to compete for business in Georgia when lawmakers convene this winter.