Solar Tariff Proposed, Advocates Objecting - Local news, weather, sports Savannah | WSAV On Your Side

Solar Tariff Proposed, Advocates Objecting

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Solar power is growing in popularity but should customers with solar panels pay a tariff? Georgia Power is proposing just that for new customers. If approved, it would start in 2014. The company says solar customers aren't fully supporting the electrical grid anymore, but still want to rely on it when they need it. That's where the tariff would come in. But solar advocates see it as one more attack on green energy.

"Georgia Power is picking on the little guy, the homeowner, trying to take more money from their pocket," says Julian Smith who operates Solar Smith, a company which installs solar panels.

Smith worries that some customers may be discouraged by the additional costs and won't invest in solar panels. The cost of the tariff would be based on the size of the system or how much electricity the panels could generate. ($5.56 per kilowatt. If you have a system capable of generating 10 kilowatts, the cost would be $56 every month.) However, Georgia Power says for average solar panel customers, the cost would be about $22 per month.

Smith thinks jobs in the solar industry might be at stake. He says the more people who are discouraged, the fewer the sales, etc. "We are appealing to the PSC definitely," he told me.

The Public Service Commission Tuesday began three days of hearings regarding not only the tariff proposal, but a broader issue of a request for an increase in the base rate. (that would add about $8 dollars to the monthly bills of all customers.)

Georgia Power spokesman John Kraft says the tariff proposal is not "about making the utility money, it's about making sure all customers pay to support the electrical grid."

Kraft says right now, customers with solar panels still expect to get power from the grid at "a moment's notice." For example, he says on cloudy days or at night customers with solar panels rely on the grid for their electricity. But Kraft says since those customers are paying lower bills, they're not supporting the full cost of the grid anymore.

"This issue should be important for any customer who does not have solar, " Kraft said. He says the utility is trying to keep customers who don't have solar panels or who can't afford them from subsidizing customers who can.

Kraft says as the popularity of solar power increases, this may become a bigger issue across the board for rate payers and Georgia Power is trying to get a solution in place before a large number of non solar panel customers are paying more to support the grid.

Kraft also made a point to say this is not a solar tax per se, but a way to recover costs and that this does not apply to up to 500 solar projects already being built as part of the company's effort to expand solar energy usage.

Still, Smith is not convinced. He sees the tariff as unfair and a job killer. Smith pointed to workers at one of his install jobs, saying that solar energy is providing an entire new industry in Georgia. He and other advocates also don't agree with the formula being used by Georgia Power to come up with the tariff amount of individual homeowners. "We want to be fair and if solar panel owners have to pay something, that's one thing, but what's being proposed is ridiculous," Smith said

Still, Smith is not convinced.  He sees the tariff as unfair and a job killer.  Smith pointed to workers at one of his install jobs, saying that solar energy is providing an entire new industry in Georgia. He and other advocates also don't agree with the formula being used by Georgia Power to come up with the tariff amount of individual homeowners.  "We want to be fair and if solar panel owners have to pay something, that's one thing, but what's being proposed is ridiculous," Smith said

The group Georgia Watch said Tuesday that the company also wants the PSC to approve an increase in the company's guaranteed profit, from 11.15% to 11.5%.  Georgia Watch said the national average return for utilities is 10% and that the PSC should be "reducing Georgia Power's return on equity, not increasing it."

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