Solar Power WorldDecember 18, 2019393
The Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) issued a final order in Georgia Power’s 2019 rate case that included some negative points for the overall customer base, but also a big win for solar power customers.
Advocacy groups urged the Commission to require Georgia Power to use monthly netting for customers with on-site solar energy participating in the utility’s rooftop solar-powered systems tariff, which would allow those customers to capture more value from their private investments while helping to boost economic growth and expand Georgia’s homegrown rooftop solar panel installation industry.
The Commission unanimously passed a motion put forward by Commissioner Echols that will require Georgia Power to use monthly netting up to 5,000 rooftop solar panel installation customers. Georgia Power’s rooftop solar-powered system program has approximately 1,000 participants today. This change will support economic growth, create local jobs and promote clean sources of renewable energy.
“Today, the Georgia Public Service Commission opened the door for energy freedom, local jobs and hardworking Georgia families,” said Katie Chiles Ottenweller, southeast director at Vote Solar. “While we are disheartened to see a cap placed on this policy change, for now, Georgia families and businesses that invest in affordable, clean rooftop solar will be treated fairly on their electric bills. Not only will fair accounting benefit rooftop solar customers, but all Georgia Power customers will benefit from a cleaner, more distributed grid that will bolster reliability and increase participation in Georgia’s energy future.”
Throughout the proceedings, advocacy groups urged the Commission to reject Georgia Power’s proposed fee hike, arguing that it would be among the highest investor-owned utility fixed charges nationwide, discourage investments in energy efficiency and solar panels, and disproportionately impact customers earning a lower or fixed income.
The PSC rejected Georgia Power’s original proposal to increase fixed fees from $10 per month to $17.95 per month on customers’ monthly bills while approving a $4 increase overall, with the first $2 increase in 2021 and another $2 increase in 2022.
The Southern Environmental Law Center intervened on behalf of Georgia Interfaith Power & Light, Southface Institute and Vote Solar in the first rate case Georgia Power has filed in six years.
“Customers who earn a fixed- or lower-income suffer the most from high electric bills, and allowing Georgia Power to increase mandatory fees only makes that burden even greater,” said Codi Norred, program director for Georgia Interfaith Power & Light. “Georgia Power could be doing much more to help its customers manage their energy costs, but instead is making it even more difficult for families, congregations, and communities statewide to stay on top of their monthly bills.”
“Today’s decision adopts a settlement agreement not signed onto by any group representing Georgia Power’s 2.2 million residential customers,” said Kurt Ebersbach, senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center. “While Georgia Power did not get everything it wanted, it’s disappointing that residential customers will now suffer additional financial burden and less control over their electric bills.”
The groups advocated for Georgia Power to develop a data access implementation plan that would allow all interested residential and small business customers to monitor and optimize their energy usage, giving them more control over energy costs. Access to energy usage information is critical to ensuring customers have the freedom to manage their electric bills as Georgia Power works to develop and offer more modern electric rates.
In today’s decision, the Commission ordered Georgia Power to work with staff to develop options for customers who want access to their energy usage data. The order allows only those parties that signed the settlement to participate in the development of the plan — that means no parties representing residential customers will have a say. Further, the order will not require any quick action; instead, customers might have to wait until 2022 or later.
“We are pleased the Commission sees the need for Georgia Power to work with staff to investigate how much it would cost and what it would take to provide customers ease of access to their energy usage data,” said Lisa Bianchi-Fossati, policy director for the Southface Institute. “However, we are concerned that Georgia Power’s settlement agreement, adopted by the Commission, has limited teeth. We urge Georgia Power to approach this effort with an eye toward developing and implementing a successful plan that will truly empower Georgians to better manage their energy usage. To do otherwise is a clear missed opportunity for Georgians and Georgia’s clean energy economy.”
Georgia Power’s proposal would have eliminated the most popular residential electric rate for customers in new homes (“R”), instead forcing those customers onto a difficult-to-understand, more volatile rate (“TOU-RD”).
The groups and Commission Staff strongly opposed this proposal. Ultimately, the Commission retained the popular R tariff, but is allowing Georgia Power to market and study the TOU-RD rate, instead of requiring a more fair approach of increasing marketing for all of its residential rate options.
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