Unfortunately, solar is a neglected renewable energy industry in the sunshine-peach State of Georgia. Nationally, Georgia ranks 7th in utilizing coal in generating electricity. This signifies that around 53.3 percent of electricity is derived from the coal sector. The renewable energy mix is only around 2.3 percent. Within this, the amount of power produced from solar energy is negligible.
Well, there is a glimmer of hope; the persistence of some of our vanguards of solar power in the current legislature may be a good thing for the industry. There are changes forthcoming, which if crafted well, will have the potential of transforming the sector, tempering fuel and energy prices, creating jobs and powering our communities.
In order to fully understand the sector, it is important to put some of the legislations in a historical context. In 1973, the world faced the Arab oil embargo which threatened the dependency of the United States on foreign petroleum to generate power for fueling transportation and generating electricity.
It is perhaps, not a coincidence that in 1973 the State of Georgia enacted the Electricity Territorial Act. However, within the backdrop of a global oil embargo, this piece of legislation lacked a state-level energy vision. This legislation provided no scope for renewable power production and is outdated. The ineffectiveness of this legislation is surmised from the fact that the original version did not even include the word ‘solar’, let alone make any reference to energy diversification. Additionally, the Act further promoted institutional monopoly in the distribution of power on the local level. It was only in 2001, when Part 3 of this legislation was amended as The Georgia Cogeneration and Distribution Act to include ‘electricity generated by steam or other forms of energy’ leading into diversification of the energy resource. The term ‘solar’ actually appears in this 2001 legislation. However, institutional area monopoly in supplying and distributing power persisted which curtailed the development of this industry. Recognizing these shortcomings, last year, during the legislative session 2012, Senator Buddy Carter introduced Senate Bill (SB) 401 proposing several changes but to no avail. Suggested revisions of the Bill, such as contractual framing through third party power purchase agreements were blocked by legislators, backed by monopoly holders.
However, efforts are under way this 2013 legislative session determined in making headway in the solar power industry.
No doubt, in 2013 the Electricity Territorial Act still lacks vision and is no longer a competitive piece of legislation as the law impedes third party financing to purchase power agreements. The act further restricts commercial and individual solar installations on the property of utility customers. To enable distributing solar for jobs and reducing energy bills, this Act of 1973 requires adapting several clauses. Adaptations are required with regard to electricity sale, inclusivity in promoting private sector participation and entrepreneurship, distribution, and transmission among other end user, private and commercial business interactions. Senator Carter is determined to transform the energy sector of the State of Georgia and has proposed to revamp SB 401 of the session 2012. Last year’s version brings the Bill up to speed with a revised SB 51 this current legislative session. In addition, an anticipated solar Bill is also in process that proposes the creation of a solar utility.
These changes may not be enough. However, with these proposed fundamental changes, Georgia can begin to initiate a dialogue for well-structured incentives, smart grid linkages and sunshine property rights for the renewable energy industry.
Will Georgia ever consider developing a comprehensive state-level integrated energy policy?