Public Service Commission delivers major clean energy wins in Georgia

Georgia Power ordered to expand solar, energy savings

The Georgia Public Service Commissioners hear recommendations from its advisory staff prior to a final vote on Georgia Power’s long-term energy plan. (© SELC/Rand Lines)

Georgia’s electric grid is getting a lot more solar following today’s final vote by the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) on Georgia Power’s long-term energy plan. The PSC approved the most significant expansion of solar resources in state history, ordering the utility to develop 2210 megawatts (MW) of new solar, enough to power more than 225,000 homes.

In addition, the PSC approved the retirement of five older coal-burning units – at Plant Hammond near Rome and Plant McIntosh near Savannah – while ordering Georgia Power to develop 80 MW of energy storage projects.

Taken together, these decisions mean a cleaner and less costly electric grid for Georgians. The storage projects will allow Georgia Power to gain experience operating this promising storage technology in tandem with solar, a pairing that is critical as Georgia moves toward a more resilient and less carbon-intensive energy system.

The final approved plan also includes important enhancements to the utility’s efficiency programs. Commission Chairman Bubba McDonald made a successful motion to increase the energy savings targets of those programs by 15 percent and their budgets by 10 percent. Without those adjustments, Georgia Power’s efficiency programs would have only maintained status quo levels of savings.

“We applaud Commissioner Tim Echols and Chairman McDonald for their commitment to Georgia’s growing solar capacity and Chairman McDonald for his important enhancements to Georgia Power’s energy efficiency programs,” said Codi Norred, Program Director for Georgia Interfaith Power and Light. “We will continue working toward additional opportunities to make Georgia a leader in capturing energy savings to match our recent achievements on the solar front, and to help the most vulnerable in our state.”

Intervening on behalf of Georgia Interfaith Power and Light (GIPL) and Partnership for Southern Equity (PSE), SELC urged the commission to order Georgia Power to double its current investment in energy saving measures, with a minimum commitment to an annual savings target of at least 1 percent of prior year sales. Chairman McDonald’s motion made key movement in that direction.

The doors to the Georgia Public Service Commission offices in downtown Atlanta. (@SELC/Rand Lines)

The groups sought increased investments in energy saving measures in order to address Georgia’s significant energy burden. Georgia as a whole, and the city of Atlanta in particular, have high energy burden, a metric that refers to the number of citizens struggling to pay their power bills. More robust efficiency programs would give more customers opportunities to save while avoiding the need for expensive new power plants, the groups argued.

The final plan features some new opportunities for bill relief for low-income customers. The PSC approved a new “crowd-sourcing” proposal where interested citizens can contribute funds to help customers in need. In addition, the plan approves a new pilot program, under which as many as 500 low-income homes will receive energy-saving retrofits that are paid for through resulting savings, a mechanism known as on-bill financing. If successful, this pilot program could be broadened in future proceedings to reach even more customers.

“Georgia Power’s final plan contains some important, incremental steps toward helping low-income customers save on their electric bills,” said Nathaniel Smith, Chief Equity Officer at Partnership for Southern Equity. “But because the problem of energy burden in Georgia is so vast, this should be viewed as only the beginning of a much larger push to help burdened customers.”

The final vote modified a proposed settlement between Georgia Power and the Commission’s Public Interest Advocacy Staff. While the vote approved most of the settlement without modification, it ordered a significant increase in the total amount of solar to be deployed over the next three years, among other changes.

GIPL, PSE, and SELC pushed for the PSC to order Georgia Power to expand its solar proposal overall, including more diverse offerings that would create better access to solar for small and medium-sized businesses, and for better coordination with cities seeking to maximize solar in order to reach clean energy goals.

A motion introduced by Chairman McDonald directed Georgia Power to increase its initial proposal of 1,000 MW of new solar to a total of 2,210 MW. Roughly half of the total solar capacity will be available for large commercial and industrial customers with clean energy goals. The final approved number also includes 210 MW of distributed generation solar, an almost five-fold increase over Georgia Power’s opening proposal. This will allow for development of smaller solar projects connected at the distribution level throughout the state.

The final order also includes:

  • A requirement that 50 MW of solar be customer-sited and receive a price set by the Commission, rather than the market. Most of the approved solar will be competitively bid, which yields the lowest prices but also tends to benefit large, standalone solar farms in south Georgia. The customer-sited provision will ensure that some solar is developed on customer properties throughout the state. Georgia Power opposed a customer-sited component, but Chairman McDonald included it in his successful motion.
  • Some important improvements to existing efficiency programs, including a 15 percent increase in the energy savings targets of the approved programs. Chairman McDonald included this provision as part of a successful motion to amend the stipulation.
  • A requirement that Georgia Power retain its Automated Benchmarking Tool, which allows owners of commercial and multi-family buildings to measure and manage their building’s energy performance. Georgia Power had sought to eliminate the tool, even though a growing number of Georgia cities consider it indispensable to attaining clean energy goals. Commissioner Tim Echols made a successful motion to save the program.

“We commend Commissioner Echols for recognizing the value of the automated bench marking tool, especially when it comes to helping cities reach their clean energy goals,” said SELC Senior Attorney Kurt Ebersbach. “Chairman McDonald has cemented his legacy as the leading solar champion in the state of Georgia, ensuring that all customers can participate in and benefit from Georgia Power’s solar offerings.”

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