Georgia Regulators Force State Utility to Embrace Solar Energy

Environmentalists, conservatives and solar startups celebrate as the influential state utility Georgia Power is mandated to expand the amount of solar energy it generates. The newly approved program requires Georgia Power to purchase solar power from solar firms, growing Georgia’s solar industry. Read Kiley Kroh’s article to learn about the Koch brother’s attempts to undermine conservative support for the initiative.  Greg Bluestein and Kristi E. Swartz’s article below outlines Georgia’s path to an exciting future for the State’s energy consumers and solar energy producers.

By Greg Bluestein and Kristi E. Swartz

State regulators forced Georgia Power on Thursday to expand the amount of solar energy it generates, putting the company on the rare losing side of a political battle. But the vote was just a skirmish compared with bigger battles ahead for the powerful utility. 

It faces a double-whammy of upcoming votes before the Public Service Commission on approving new costs for its nuclear expansion project and a proposed 6 percent rate hike to fund new equipment. And a legislative fight looms over a proposal to create a new solar monopoly that could challenge Georgia Power’s grip on state utilities. 

The all-Republican commission’s 3-2 vote was a significant defeat for the Atlanta-based company, which had warned it already generated more than enough energy for its customers. Opponents also said that adding 525 megawatts of solar by 2016 would inevitably drive up rates, although Georgia Power, in a surprising about-face, backed off that argument on Thursday after months of making that case. Instead, its attorney said for the first time that the added solar likely wouldn’t affect power bills. 

In the aftermath of Thursday’s vote, the odd coalition of environmentalists, conservatives and solar startups behind the expansion barely paused to savor their win. Some emboldened activists said the victory gave them new hope they could successfully challenge the utility on other contentious issues.


If It Is Broke Please Fix It; Wisconsin Needs Uniform Siting Standards

Date: July 15, 2009
Contact: Noah Seligman, 608-310-3338

Circuit Court decision affirms problems with wind energy regulatory framework
A Court of Appeals decision today (Ecker Brothers V. Calumet County) ruled that local units of government do not have the power to adopt siting standards of general applicability for wind energy systems. This decision eliminates several restrictive ordinances that purported to regulate wind energy, but merely served to block wind energy development.

“The ruling casts substantial uncertainty about wind energy regulation in Wisconsin. In order for the state to move forward with a balanced approach to renewable energy growth, the legislature must pass uniform siting standards,” said Curt Pawlisch, an attorney for RENEW Wisconsin, one of the sponsoring organizations for the Wind for Wisconsin coalition. “We urge the legislature to act quickly and pass uniform sitting standards when it returns in September.”

SB 185/AB 256 directs the Public Service Commission (PSC) to initiate an administrative rule-making process to establish statewide siting standards for wind energy projects. The PSC is an independent regulatory agency dedicated to serving the public interest. The bill draft requires the PSC to establish an advisory committee of diverse interests to advise the Commission on the rules. AB 256 was vote out of the Assembly Committee on Energy & Utilities on a 10-2 vote last month, and has strong bipartisan support like its Senate companion.

“The Court did more than simply declare Calumet County’s wind ordinance to be unlawful,” said Michael Vickerman, Executive Director of RENEW Wisconsin.

“The Court’s decision also stripped away the legal foundation supporting all Wisconsin ordinances that contain blanket restrictions on wind projects. The decision erases unreasonable local ordinances that effectively prohibited any new wind development in this state for projects under 100 MW.

“A commitment to wind energy development will serve as an economic catalyst for Wisconsin, creating jobs in manufacturing, construction, transportation, and operation & maintenance of wind turbines,” Vickerman said. “SB 185/AB 256 makes our state more attractive to manufacturing and other supply chain businesses that create state jobs. By establishing statewide standards for siting small and medium sized wind farms, legislators can provide enduring economic opportunity for Wisconsin,” he said.