Associated Press Writer
ATLANTA — Georgians who install solar panels on their homes or businesses should not have to pay a special fee proposed by Georgia Power, utility regulators said Friday.
The Southern Co. subsidiary wants to assess a charge that would add roughly $22 a month to the bill of someone who builds a typical residential solar system starting next year. The utility says customers with solar panels still need to pay a fair share of the costs of running an electric grid even if they are buying less electricity from the power company.
The staff of the Public Service Commission has recommended against adopting that charge, saying Georgia Power has not proven that solar customers are dodging any costs.
“Clearly, such a rate and policy would provide a significant deterrent for residential customers to actively engage in renewable energy alternatives and also deter their attempts to reduce their electric bills,” said Jamie Barber, the PSC’s renewable energy manager, and Glenn Watkins, an economist, in written testimony. “This policy simply is not in the public interest.”
Solar energy now accounts for less than 1 percent of the power available on the utility’s grid, meaning it’s unlikely to radically affect costs, Barber and Watkins said.
If adopted, the charge would apply to any customer who installed a renewable energy system unless they participated in limited programs offered by the power company. Solar developers have fought the proposal, saying it was an attempt to price solar power out of the market.
Georgia Power’s solar customers could avoid the monthly fee under the company’s plan, but they would have to buy power at prices that the power company says to better recoup the cost of running the grid.
Georgia Power spokesman John Kraft said the utility would review the staff recommendations but believed the charge should be adopted.
The advice from the regulatory staff is not binding on PSC’s elected members, who are scheduled to decide the issue in December.