Company, customers debate raising rates on solar
by Nikki Wiley
October 06, 2013 12:04 AM | 11284 views | 16 16 comments | 16 16 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Dr. Deidra Hodges, assistant professor of electrical engineering at Southern Polytechnic State University, shows off the school solar panel grid that powers the campus greenhouse. Dr. Hodges recently installed the same set up at her home in Hiram and actually puts electricity back on the grid at her home.
Dr. Deidra Hodges, assistant professor of electrical engineering at Southern Polytechnic State University, shows off the school solar panel grid that powers the campus greenhouse. Dr. Hodges recently installed the same set up at her home in Hiram and actually puts electricity back on the grid at her home.
slideshow
MARIETTA — Going green could carry an extra price tag.

Georgia Power says customers with solar panels on their homes or businesses who don’t opt into the company’s Advanced Solar Initiative need to start paying an extra fee on their power bill.

The energy monopoly has asked the Georgia Public Service Commission for permission to raise its rates an average of $8 monthly for residential customers. Coupled with that is a request to charge an extra $22 monthly on the typical home solar system.

Customers can apply to become part of the initiative, a solar energy purchase program, but spots are limited. Homes or businesses that rely completely on solar power and disconnect from the utility’s grid would be unaffected.

The PSC is expected to vote on the request in mid-December and heard testimony from the power company this week. If approved, the hike would go into effect in January.

John Kraft, Georgia Power spokesman, says the fee is needed because solar customers buy less power from the utility but still require access to the grid and other infrastructure.

“They don’t want to go into the dark so they want us to instantly provide a seamless amount of power,” Kraft said.

Most solar homes do not generate enough electricity to rely exclusively on the panels. Kraft says usually homes still need to be connected to a utility’s system for power at night or on cloudy days when less solar power is produced.

“It means we have to have power on standby to serve that need in case it comes up,” Kraft said.

The rate increase for traditional customers would last three years and is the first request since 2010 when the service commission approved another request for a three-year increase.

Georgia Power would earn a profit of between 10.25 percent and 12.25 percent for every dollar it invests in its system under the proposal. If profits exceeded the top range, customers would get back two-thirds of the excess collections. Georgia Power CFO Ron Hinson said those profit levels are necessary to attract shareholders whose cash is used to build and maintain an electric system serving nearly 2.4 million customers.

Kraft says the company’s rates have been below the national average for the last 26 years. Inflation has increased 76 percent since 1990, he said, but base rates have gone up just 26 percent.

Paying for the sun

Mike Jones opted to install solar panels on his 3,600-square-foot home in west Cobb two years ago.

An initial $50,000 investment is paying for itself, Jones said, as his power bill that once ranged from $400 to $500 has dropped to between zero dollars and $200 each month.

Jones isn’t a Georgia Power customer and uses Cobb EMC, but he says it doesn’t make sense for the state’s largest utility to charge more for solar power because the utility gets power back from its solar customers.

“If they’re going to charge you more for doing something, why don’t they pay you more for providing power?” Jones asked.

When homes or businesses with solar power connect to a utility’s grid, excess energy is given back to the power company.

Georgia Power argues that’s not enough.

“Solar or wind, for instance, are intermittent. We can’t count on a certain amount of solar at any given time due to clouds, storms, etc.,” Kraft said. “Also, solar generation tends to peak by 2 p.m. and then declines. Our system peak is between 5 and 7 p.m., so at the period of greatest strain, solar systems are back to pulling from Georgia Power.”

Solar energy is becoming a popular option because of increasing electric rates and environmental concerns. Though panels still carry a heft price tag, government incentives and tax rebates are making the cost more affordable.

Deidra Hodges is a professor at Southern Polytechnic State University who installed solar panels on her Hiram home last year. Of the $26,000 she spent on the 26 panels, about 75 percent she got back in government incentives and rebates.

Her power bill dropped dramatically from an average of $150 monthly on her 1,800-square foot home. Now, she occasionally gets credits back from her power provider, GreyStone Power Corp., because she gives the company more electricity than she takes.

Though she pays an administrative fee of around $25 to GreyStone, she’s skeptical of Georgia Power’s rationale for charging solar customers an extra fee.

“Show us why there’s such a big cost,” Hodges said. “Is it really that high or is that you don’t want to accept the solar power from customers?”

While Georgia Power says its costs are rising, Southern Co., its parent company, reported $297 million in net income during the three-month period ending in June. Those earnings were down 52 percent compared to last year, mostly because of losses on building a coal gasification plant in Mississippi.

Solar may have an added cost, Hodges said, but so do other forms of energy.

“The government supports coal right now, which makes it affordable and the government supports solar power which makes it affordable,” Hodges said.

Is solar the future?

Traditional electricity comes from non-renewable fossil resources, like gasoline and coal, and when those resources run out, Hodges said, energy prices are going to jump.

“I do believe we need another solution, another approach,” Hodges said. “I do believe it’s in the alternatives.”

Hodges says there will be resistance from oil companies and utilities who fear more sustainable options might affect their bottom line.

“Solar is part of the solution. It’s not the solution,” Hodges said. “I believe the solution is just alternative energy.”

Still, it’s an expensive option that traditional customers shouldn’t have to subsidize with their tax dollars because of fears over “some non-existent global warming thing,” said Patti Gettinger, director of energy policy for the Marietta-based Georgia Tea Party.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate for non-solar customers to subsidize a higher cost for customers who have chosen that,” Gettinger said.

Gettinger maintains that she isn’t against alternative energy, but she’s skeptical about solar power’s reliability and costs.

Solar power is costly for property owners to install and, she said, generates energy at only about 20 percent of its capacity. That number drops even lower at night or when the sky is cloudy.

Gettinger says solar power hurts traditional customers because it causes rates to increase across the board. There’s a push, she said, to force utility companies to use more solar power for environmental reasons.

“‘Kill coal’ is sort of the mantra of the day, which makes absolutely no sense to me,” Gettinger said.

Environmentally conscious low-income homeowners and apartment dwellers may want their utility to use more solar power but don’t have the money or the space to install panels on their own.

“I get that, but there are a lot of things we want and don’t have the money for or don’t have a place to put it,” Gettinger said. “You can’t have a pony in an apartment.”

She takes issue with forcing a utility to buy something.

“Who has authority to do that?” Gettinger said.

Georgia Power is regulated by the Georgia Public Service Commission because it operates as a state-protected monopoly. But Georgia has more than 100 electric utilities, Gettinger said, and has chosen to subject itself to that regulation in exchange for having a larger territory.

“If you hate Georgia Power so much, maybe that’s another choice that you make as far as where you live and where you get your power from,” Gettinger said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Comments
(16)
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otter357
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October 10, 2013
Solution above you is right. The earth gets about 29.4 Mega Joules of energy per square meter, per day. This is a stupendous amount of energy
Solution Above you
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October 09, 2013
"End-user solar is out of their control. Demand is falling and will continue to fall. Efficiency is playing a major role and there's nothing they can do about end-users becoming more efficient.

End-user storage is going to play a role if they don't act to Make Solar Owners Happy and especially if they try to minimize the impact of solar by setting up economic barriers."

http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/40-Percent-of-Utilities-Predict-Complete-Transformation-by-2030

Solution Above you
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October 09, 2013


“The generic brown kilowatt-hour that comes in at the market price and a kilowatt-hour of clean, waterproof, climate-proof energy from a rooftop are different. One goes right to work from the rooftop to the house, and one has to be transmitted over big parts of the system.”

And the difference is crucial, he added. “For the work done, every kilowatt-hour is the same. But they don’t have the same costs and benefits and only after their relative worth is established can the solar customer’s compensation be evaluated.”

Rabago referenced studies showing that retail electricity's value is less than the value of solar. “If those numbers are right, it is fair to argue that solar customers are subsidizing everyone else, because they are not getting more than retail even though they are providing benefits that exceed retail.”

fr: http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/will-a-new-regulators-guide-settle-the-value-of-rooftop-solar-debate

Solution Above you
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October 09, 2013
"Distributed generation is rapidly growing, as solar and other power technologies become competitive with retail power prices. Joe Wiedman of the Interstate Renewable Energy Council and Tom Beach of Crossborder Energy lay out the need for policies that remove barriers to distributed generation.

And perhaps the broadest question was tackled by Ron Lehr, former chair of the Colorado utility commission – what will these rapid changes do to the business model of utilities, and to the regulatory compact that has guided the utility business for the past 80 years? While some utilities are trying to protect their revenues from the forces of consumer demand and technological innovation, Lehr argues that “this is a losing battle, and runs counter to the public interest.”

" http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/rea/blog/post/2013/09/six-myths-about-renewable-energy-and-seven-answers
FOFO1
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October 08, 2013
Who is fighting this and how do I join and donate money to them.
MathGeek
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October 07, 2013
Did you do the math on the solar install? $50 grand to save roughly $350 a month, means it will take 12 years to recoup the initial investment, more if loan interest is required. Think of all the things that have been invented in the last 10 years: iphone/ipod, YouTube, hybrid cars, Wii, Kindle, etc. By the time break-even is achieved, that solar system will likely be obsolete.
Solution Above you
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October 09, 2013
Math Geek,

After solar owners 'pay-off' system in 12 years, what will you on grid be paying in electric rates?

Solar owner will have paid-off solar using free energy and $0 bills for system and the electricity it produces.

When are you going to 'pay-off' your electric bill?

A. NEVER (unless you get a solar PV system)

You paying utility bills will have at least double(or many X?!) the rates & bills for your energy in a decade.

So what's the best choice to do now to save then?

p.s. P.S. Current Solar PhotoVoltaic crystalline modules "panels" are lasting over 40 year now (& lab test over 500 years!)
Skeptic2013
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October 07, 2013
Got a big laugh over the previous comments by global warming alarmists. What a bunch of suckers! First they were duped by climate "scientists", then by solar scammers. C'mon - the weather folks can't even tell you what's going to happen next weekend! LOL. Global warming is the biggest fraud ever perpetrated on the public.

Back in the 70's, similar climate propaganda was touted: "consensus" among scientists was that a new ice age was coming, starvation due to overpopulation (Erlich), the extinction of birds due to DDT (Carson), etc. Today's junk science includes global warming. "Climategate" revealed so-called climate scientists falsified, destroyed, and manipulated data and used bad models. There's been no global warming in the last 17 years. Quite a few global warming conferences in the last few years have been cancelled or delayed due to snow, and a conference in Cancun saw participants needing a sweater. Alarmists have been saying the heat would create severe drought and water shortages (eh, how 'bout this year's rainfall, dumbos?). God does have a fabulous sense of humor. Glad to see the tea party has a energy point person wise enough to see through the baloney. Go, Gettinger!
how ridiculous
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October 07, 2013
Power consumption at night drops off dramatically, so any power company claiming they need extra ANYTHING to provide power at night is off their rocker. Their CEO should be arrested for fraud and then deported to never never land!
scammers
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October 07, 2013
Will the power company being scammers finally come to the attention of the public? Will Solar finally shine a light on the goings ons that Enron apparently somehow didn't? If I plant tomatoes will I have to go pay Kroger a fee for them?
Craig Miller
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October 06, 2013
There is a lot of money in the production of energy. Utilities produce and deliver energy to customers then are regulated to charge "x" amount per unit for each season or time of day. I looked at three different billing types (Electric Vehicle Rate, Time of Use rate, and their standard rate), customers can choose which billing will save them money. Solar customers should also get to choose which billing type they want, without a fee for having solar installed. All the utility needs to do is calculate the amount of alternative energy gets added to the grid by pulling building permits. It's not going to be exact, for alternative energy is not consistent, but utilities can get an idea on about how much will be produced. Subtract that from the utilities reserve power, and the utility may find they don't need to add 4 more coal plants, or 2 new nuclear reactors. That is the WHOLE point of renewable energy!

Also, I reduced my home's energy bill by about 25% by becoming more efficient. A homeowner who chooses to install solar to account for 25% of their energy needs accomplishes the same savings. Except I qualified for $600 worth of rebates from Georgia Power. Maybe Georgia Power should offer rebates to homeowners who install solar? They give rebates to do essentially the same thing already. Do us a favor Georgia Power and leave the people who choose to go solar alone. One day, they will appreciate those who chose to install solar, that day is when solar customers will be able to choose how much to charge the utility for the power they generate. Oh, and they'll charge a fee for just having transmission lines ran to their solar arrays. :-)
otter357
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October 06, 2013
Government taxes more heavily to encourage some behaviors and discourage others. We have large taxes of cigarettes to discourage their use, and to recoup costs. Gasoline is another example. Alcohol might be another.

Fossil fuel use pollutes more than does solar energy. Fossil fuel resources are not renewable, they'll run out. and before they run out, the price will jump.

Gettinger may deny pollution and climate change, but she's wrong. Rewarding the switch to renewable, relatively non polluting energy is much more important to our long term survival than she'll admit. This situation is closer to a tipping point than she knows, and the physics are implacable, and cannot be negotiated with.

This may be ignorance on Gettinger's part, it may be cronyism. It doesn't really matter, she's still dead wrong.

Why does Georgia Power wish to penalize solar power users? Because solar power users break the monopoly, and may be net donors of electricity. Power companies make money expanding, building new plants and expanding territory. If solar power use increases, revenue shrinks. paragraph 14 shows Georgia Power's (legitimate) problem when it mentions that Jone's power bill "that once ranged from $400 to $500 has dropped to between zero dollars and $200 each month." Georgia Power still has to maintain the grid, but it gets less revenue per square mile than it used to. A real problem.

But while solar power use may not be in Georgia Power's interests, it is in the best interest of the population.

Gettinger shows herself as ignorant, or bought. If the drive towards less coal consumption doesn't make sense to her, perhaps man induced climate change " she should visit the mine sites and see the pollution, and the human cost, and re-evaluate her "opinion" of global climate change and water and air pollution caused by coal use.

If Gettinger considers man induced climate change “some non-existent global warming thing”, she's too ignorant or corrupt to hold a position of authority, in the Tea party's energy committee or anybody's energy committee. Let her go work for a coal company, where corrupt and ignorant opinions are paid for and considered useful. If the Tea Party wants to contribute to the population's welfare and the nation and world as a whole, I'd advise the Tea Party to get someone more honest or knowledgeable, or both.
Patti Gettinger
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October 07, 2013
Otter357: I recently visited a coal mine in Alabama, went down in the shafts, etc.,with a number of legislators from the Southeast. The air in the area was great, the coal miners make a starting salary of 6-figures, the allied industries create lots of jobs, and the power it generates is very inexpensive. Very impressive and desirable and healthy for everyone. I have no allegiances to any utility or source, nor have I received any compensation whatsoever from any aspect of the industry, nor do any direct me in any way. Impugning my reputation by making baseless accusations casts doubt on your judgment and integrity - not just about me but your understanding of energy and climate in general.
otter357
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October 10, 2013
I appreciate your forthrightness answering my admittedly harsh assertions. But I don't see anything in your post that says I'm wrong. Statistically coal mining is one of the most dangerous occupations. Accidents, black lung, cancer, make the insurance rates sky high.

Remember a few years ago there were two coal mine cave ins and it came out that the company had been cited many times for safety violations, but its cheaper to pay the fine and the insurance on the mens' deaths? They didn't want to leave coal in the ground so they didn't leave enough earth to support the roofs of the rooms?

Most forms of coal mining and use pollute heavily. Climate change is real, and almost a fact. Utilities do make money by expansion. Utilities are unhappy about losing their monopolies, and haven't figured out a way to keep people from using solar. Your post addresses none of these things.



An arranged visit to a coal mine with other legislators is a set piece, an arranged visitation, they knew when you were coming and controlled what you saw, who you came in contact with, where you went. I don't doubt your anecdote, but it is only an anecdote from a controlled situation, designed to influence you in the way it has influenced you.

And if you think climate change is a myth, then you really do lack a lot of information. I am somewhat of a scientist, and I am in China right now, and China is very dependent on coal power, check out the air here. Just of few months ago, a third of the country was enveloped in air where the visibility was 300 meters, sometimes less than 200 meters. The particulate count was off the charts and it was forbidden to report the actual number. But the video tells the tale.

People think the volume fo the ecosphere is much larger than it is. but with few exceptions, all live must exist in in about 6 billion cubic kilometers, which sound like a lot to some people, but it isn't.

I can't put a link in here but google "All the water and air on earth gathered into spheres and compared to the Earth"

You will see a photo comparing the sizes and some numbers.

Think of a croquet ball in the early morning, with a little dew on it. Now put a drop of ink on it and see it spread. People just don't understand the facts of the matter. The physics and chemistry of the situation are truly implacable. No arranged tour refutes any of this. Sorry, but the science community violently disagrees with you, and you should consider that.
anonymous
|
October 11, 2013
I

appreciate your forthrightness answering my admittedly harsh

assertions. But I don't see anything in your post that says I'm wrong.

Statistically coal mining is one of the most dangerous occupations.

Accidents, black lung, cancer, make the insurance rates sky high.

Remember a few years ago there were two coal mine cave ins and it came

out that the company had been cited many times for safety violations,

but its cheaper to pay the fine and the insurance on the mens' deaths?

They didn't want to leave coal in the ground so they didn't leave enough

earth to support the roofs of the rooms?

Most forms of coal mining and use pollute heavily. Climate change is

real, and almost a fact. Utilities do make money by expansion.

Utilities are unhappy about losing their monopolies, and haven't figured

out a way to keep people from using solar. Your post addresses none of

these things.



An arranged visit to a coal mine with other legislators is a set piece,

an arranged visitation, they knew when you were coming and controlled

what you saw, who you came in contact with, where you went. I don't

doubt your anecdote, but it is only an anecdote from a controlled

situation, designed to influence you in the way it has influenced you.

And if you think climate change is a myth, then you really do lack a lot

of information. I am somewhat of a scientist, and I am in China right

now, and China is very dependent on coal power, check out the air here.

Just of few months ago, a third of the country was enveloped in air

where the visibility was 300 meters, sometimes less than 200 meters.

The particulate count was off the charts and it was forbidden to report

the actual number. But the video tells the tale.

People think the volume fo the ecosphere is much larger than it is. but

with few exceptions, all live must exist in in about 6 billion cubic

kilometers, which sound like a lot to some people, but it isn't.

I can't put a link in here but google "All the water and air on earth

gathered into spheres and compared to the Earth"

You will see a photo comparing the sizes and some numbers.

Think of a croquet ball in the early morning, with a little dew on it.

Now put a drop of ink on it and see it spread. People just don't

understand the facts of the matter. The physics and chemistry of the

situation are truly implacable. No arranged tour refutes any of this. Nothing you report from your arranged tour casts doubt on my understanding of energy and climate in general.

Sorry, but the science community violently disagrees with you, and you

should consider that. Why do you think your anecdote of an arranged tour and some rhetoric is a better proof than the observable numbers from the science community? As to my integrity and judgement, that's for the reader to decide.
otter357
|
October 13, 2013
sorry about the accidental duplicate post
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