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Georgia Power Told to Use More Solar Energy

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Solar energy is definitely a hot topic in Georgia Today. The Public Service Commission voted to require Georgia Power to add more solar energy to its generating capacity over the next two decades. The new stipulation passed on a vote of four to one, with Commissioner Stan Wise voting no. Wise called it a "feel good" move that would force Georgia Power to add generating capacity it may not even need and said it's something that might increase rates.

The move requires Georgia Power to add 525 megawatts of solar energy to its network, meaning solar would now be about 2 percent of the overall energy used. The utility had not proposed adding any additional solar energy when it presented its plan for meeting the state's energy needs over the next two decades.

Commissioner Lauren "Bubba" McDonald made the proposal to require more solar energy use. He said solar energy costs have come down which is making the technology more competitive. He disagreed that solar energy would cause rates to increase.

Two people who agree with him are Liz Coyle from the consumer group Georgia Watch and Paul Wolff a Tybee City Councilman who has solar panels on his own home. First, Coyle reacted to word that increasing solar would raise rates. "We don't believe that is the case," she told News 3. "We think this is a great thing that will add clean, renewable energy to the mix. This doesn't have to put pressure on rates."

Coyle says the cost of solar panels and generating solar energy has come down since 2009 and there is no reason to believe that adding a small amount of extra solar power to the mix will mean higher rates. Coyle also pointed out that Georgia Power recently asked for a six percent base rate increase (to go into effect January, 2014) and said that next week the PSC will take up cost overruns at Plant Vogtle where two new nuclear reactors are being built. "The overruns are close to $800 million dollars," she told us. "I will be anxious to see if Commissioner Wise is as concerned about the overruns and another rate increase as he is about the cost of some extra solar power," said Coyle.

Meanwhile, Wolff who is Tybee city councilman says he remains convinced solar power is something that can be adapted for widespread use. He installed solar panels on his roof several years ago, and actually sells the electricity he generates back to Georgia Power. "So I get 17 cents a kilowatt hour for what I generate, and they buy everything I produce," Wolff said.

While solar panels are being used by some homeowners and some business owners, Georgia Power has said in massive commercial use, solar is not always reliable because of cloud cover. But Wolff believes we could be still be using more solar. "We have five and one half hours of pure sunshine a day on an annual basis. And that is huge as a resource. We have the fifth best capacity in the country, and we're 38th in terms of solar installations," he said.

Yet Georgia Power says while sunshine is free, generating solar power is not, that buying it is expensive and generating it is still incredibly expensive. Still, solar advocates point to the fact the utility is willing to spend billions on its share of the new nuclear power project at Plant Vogtle. "They (Georgia Power ) are the biggest limiting factor we have for getting more solar in the state."

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