Stage set for solar battle royal in Georgia

Since Georgia’s solar industry expanded so rapidly in 2016, it almost seems inevitable that a conflict over special fees for solar customers would inevitably arise. It’s just a bit surprising how quickly it’s come – and how bitter it promises to be.

At the same time Central Georgia Electric Membership Corp. (EMC) added more than $30 in fees to solar customers’ bills, Republican Rep. Buzz Brockway introduced House Bill 431, which is designed to increase transparency when EMCs want to add such fees and justify that amounts.

Under current Georgia law, EMC rates are not regulated by the state’s Public Service Commission (PSC), unlike investor-owned utilities like Georgia Power. So while the PSC can define an EMC’s territory and financing, the smaller utilities are largely on their own to set rates. Central Georgia EMC sent the PSC a public letter in January saying they were adding a $27 per month in fixed charges, a service charge of $7 per month per kW of installed customer-generator capacity (AC) and a $5 per month administrative charge.

The document also sets the net-metering rate, although it is blacked out on the publicly available document from the PSC’s website. Georgia EMC says the rate is calculated “based upon the Corporation’s avoided average annual cost of purchased power.” Various reports suggest the number is lower than the retail rate, but that can’t be independently confirmed by pv magazine.

News for community-solar customers isn’t much better. The document outlines that Central Georgia EMC has added a service charge of $19 per month per block (1 kW block) of subscribed community-solar capacity for those customers who want the convenience of solar energy but, for whatever reason, want to share the installations costs with their neighbors. Like the residential customers, the net-metering rate for community solar is puzzlingly blacked outl. Such charges could discourage otherwise-willing solar customers from joining the solar revolution.

Rate additions like Central Georgia EMC’s are common among the smaller utilities in the state, which is why Rep. Brockway’s bill could go a long way to limiting how much EMCs could treat solar customers as a separate rate class, subject to seemingly arbitrary fees solely charged to them (nowhere in Georgia EMC’s filing is a justification for the fees offered). Brockway told The Macon (Ga.) Telegraph:

“I think we need more transparency in fees. People who are going to make a pretty significant investment putting solar on their house need to know what’s going to happen.”

Predictably, the EMCs are strongly opposed to the bill, and Brockway told the Telegraph he is working with both sides to see if compromise is possible.

What makes the timing for the battle interesting is that, as pv magazine reported last week (with charts), Georgia nearly quintupled its installed solar capacity in 2016, installing more than 1 GW of capacity, up from 228 MW in 2015, for a total of more than 1.4 GW installed in the past two years alone. The state currently supports 3,185 solar jobs, including 1,484 installations positions.