Georgia commission fails to expand solar net metering program


The Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) voted on Tuesday to raise electric rates, to maintain the cap on net metering, and to impose a $100 interconnection fee for new solar customers.

The new interconnection fee is hard for potential rooftop solar owners to take, but it is half of what was previously proposed.  In October, Georgia Power proposed a $200 interconnection fee, citing a “cost shift” on non-solar customers by rooftop solar customers as the reasoning behind the new proposed interconnection charge. The “cost shift” is a utility anti-rooftop solar concept that utilities use to justify raising rates and increasing profits. The argument is that rooftop solar programs lead to a cross-subsidization of solar customers by those who have not yet adopted the technology.

The PSC commissioners agreed that Georgia Power will pay 6.68 cents per kWh for electricity generated by owners of rooftop solar panels, but only after the solar owners have paid full retail rate for the electricity they’ve used. Previously Georgia Power subtracted the solar-generated electricity from residents’ bills, which is the way net metering works in most states. That plan will be grandfathered for those who already have solar, but new solar users will have to pay their full electric bill first, before seeing payback on their solar generating system.

Georgia Power’s controversial cap of 5,000 net metering customers will remain. A net metering policy was spelled out in Georgia Power’s 2019 rate case, enabling Georgia Public Service Commission to offer net metering with monthly netting to 5,000 rooftop solar customers or 32 MW of capacity, whichever comes first. Georgia allows for net metering on residential systems of up to 10 kW or commercial of up to 100 kW commercial.

The program has been effective at encouraging solar adoption, and as a result the cap of 5,000 customers has been reached in past years. At the beginning of the program, some renewable energy advocates, including Katie Chiles Ottenweller, southeast director at Vote Solar, expressed discontent over the size of the program and predicted that the program would quickly reach capacity.

“We know that GPC will continue to fight fair compensation rates for rooftop solar, but we are particularly disappointed that the PSC let them get away with it,” said Kevin Lucas, senior director of utility regulation and policy for the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). “The Commissioners had all the information and data they needed to expand the pilot monthly netting program and spur Georgia’s rooftop solar market, but they simply chose not to do so. Frustratingly, the PSC’s failure to expand the pilot program and only offer a temporary increase for exported energy will keep the state’s rooftop solar sector mired at the bottom of the national rankings.”

Georgia ranks 7th nationally in the SEIA solar deployment tracker, with over 4.3 GW installed to date. The state holds over 4,400 solar jobs, houses 176 solar businesses, and roughly 4% of the state’s total electricity comes from solar energy. Read more about Georgia’s solar policies here.

SEIA intervened in the case alongside Vote Solar and the Georgia Solar Energy Industries Association (GASEIA). The coalition’s joint comments include analysis showing how customers could have saved money under a different rate structure.“The PSC’s small and temporary increase for exported rooftop solar energy will not encourage any economic development in the Georgia rooftop solar market,” said Allison Kvien, southeast regulatory director at Vote Solar. “Policymakers should be working to expand solar access, not stifle it. As we begin a new legislative session in a few short weeks, we’ll be looking to state legislators to take real action and make Georgia a place where people have the ability and the real, economic option to manage their energy bills through rooftop solar adoption.”

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