Georgia Power wants to add fee to solar-powered customers
by Derek Kinner
October 02, 2013 11:53 AM | 7456 views | 2 2 comments | 29 29 recommendations | email to a friend | print
In this Thursday, Sept. 26, 2013, photo, Decatur Self Storage's array of solar cells are installed on the flat roof of the building as they capture solar energy and convert it to electrical energy for the storage facility, in in Decatur, Ga. Owner Mike Easterwood also returns excess electricity to the Georgia Power Company electrical grid in exchange for a reduced monthly power rate. (AP Photo/David Tulis)
In this Thursday, Sept. 26, 2013, photo, Decatur Self Storage's array of solar cells are installed on the flat roof of the building as they capture solar energy and convert it to electrical energy for the storage facility, in in Decatur, Ga. Owner Mike Easterwood also returns excess electricity to the Georgia Power Company electrical grid in exchange for a reduced monthly power rate. (AP Photo/David Tulis)
slideshow

ATLANTA (AP) — Sunlight is free, but if you use it to make electricity your power company wants you to pay.

Utilities in many states say solar-friendly rate plans, conceived to promote alternative energy sources, are too generous and allow solar customers to avoid paying for the grid even though they use it.

Some power companies are proposing an extra fee for solar customers. Others are trying to roll back or block programs that allow those customers to trade the solar power they generate during sunny days for power they need from the grid during other times.

As rooftop solar expands from a niche product to a mainstream way to save money on power bills, utilities are afraid they will lose so many customers — and revenue — that they won't be able to afford to build and maintain the grid.

"We want to make sure that as we change the way our system works that all of that is good for all customers," said Greg Roberts, vice president of pricing and planning at Southern Co. subsidiary Georgia Power. The utility is proposing additional fees for renewable energy users, including one that would add up to about $22 per month for typical home solar systems.

Solar installers say the utility industry is trying to hold onto customers — and protect profits — as U.S. homes and businesses become more efficient and generate their own electricity. Rooftop solar systems would not be economical with some of the new fees or rate changes being pushed by utilities.

"They are trying to punish people for buying less electricity," says Bryan Miller, vice president for public policy at Sunrun, a solar financing company. "They are trying to kill solar."

Mike Easterwood, who paid about $320,000 to install nearly 400 solar panels on top of his self-storage business near Atlanta, says the new charges are designed to discourage people from installing new systems if they go into effect next year as proposed.

"I think it scares the heck out of (utilities), quite frankly," Easterwood says. "They are a monopoly, and so they operate in monopolistic fashion."

The fight has come about because solar systems have plummeted in price and grown more popular at a time when U.S. electricity use is flat or even declining. Utilities, already facing the prospect of weak sales for years to come, are seeing more customers buy drastically less power when they generate their own with solar panels, fuel cells, or other so-called "distributed generation" technologies.

That reduces the need to build big new power plants and transmission lines — which is how utilities grow their business, make a profit for shareholders and keep their borrowing costs low. Regulators allow utilities to earn higher profits when they build large projects.

In most states, solar customers are allowed to trade the power that their panels generate during the day for power they need during the night. That reduces the amount they pay to their traditional utility and the amount they contribute to maintaining the grid — even though they still use it.

"The cost is being born by everyone else," says Richard McMahon, vice president for energy supply and finance at the Edison Electric Institute, a utility industry lobbying group.

Forty-three states have some sort of power-swapping plan, most of which include a cap on how large the programs can grow. There are 283,000 electric customers participating in these programs in the U.S. as of July, according to the Energy Department.

Solar advocates argue rooftop systems instead benefit other customers and the grid. When a home uses the power produced by solar panels, it pulls less power through the system. Even when the panels are producing more power than needed at home, the excess goes to the closest house that needs power — and not through the whole system — as a matter of physics. Both scenarios mean less stress on the grid.

"Solar customers are paying more than their fair share," says Sunrun's Miller.

Utilities disagree, and have proposed charging special fees or rolling back power-swapping rate plans in Georgia, Arizona, California and Idaho.

Arizona Public Service Co. officials estimate that a typical solar customer is avoiding $1,000 a year in payments to support the electricity grid. The company proposes either charging new solar users a rate that recaptures more of the utility's costs or reducing the benefit of the energy swapping program.

California utilities made a similar push recently. Legislators there voted in September to allow the state's solar rate plan to continue and even expand for now, but said it would change the way the state structures rates in a way that may address utilities' concerns. A report commissioned by state regulators and released last week says non-solar customers in the current rate system are paying between $75 million and $254 million per year in extra grid costs now, and that could expand to $1.1 billion per year by 2020.

Georgia Power has asked regulators to add a new fee for solar customers who install new systems beginning next year. Alternatively, those new solar customers could buy power at prices that the utility says better recoups its costs. The solar industry in Georgia is fighting the proposal.

"If I turn off my lights, the power company shouldn't send me a bill," says James Marlow, CEO of Radiance Solar in Atlanta.

Power companies say Marlow should at least pay for the option of turning the lights back on when the sun isn't shining.

The question for both sides to resolve is how much.

___

Fahey reported from New York. He can be reached at http://twitter.com/JonathanFahey. Ray Henry can be reached at http://twitter.com/rhenryAP .



Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Comments
(2)
Comments-icon Post a Comment
Solution Above you
|
October 09, 2013
"

Power companies say Marlow should at least pay for the option of turning the lights back on when the sun isn't shining."

He does, it's called his 'electric bill', he pays for electricity he uses from (GA.) Power companies just like most of you.

So, when a homeowner(or biz) reduce their electric usage by producing during the day, they should get Full compensation for what power companies profit from power from local 'power plant' owner paid for & build on their property.

Net-metering benefits most electric service utilities (esp. GA.power)more than customers.

Most power companies encourage energy efficiency with $$ rebates & incentives to buy low energy use appliances, they REWARD you to use less!

Then why don't they reward (anymore) & encourage REDUCING your electric bill by you producing power with solar on your property?

Energy Efficiency BOTH REDUCE your usage, so why would they encourage one (efficiency) & now try to stop solar use?

Because they want to OWN THE SOLAR (power 'source') and not you!!

It YOU OWN the Solar 'Power Plant', you own the means (& source, solar free 'fuel') of production & no bill!

(then power companies lose control of biling you forever)
FROM TEXAS
|
October 02, 2013
They already have a monopoly on power they are currently extorting billions out of us residential customers for their cost overrun nuke plant now. Someone needs to file a federal suit against Georgia and Georgia Power it is illegal make your own solar power thought Republicans were for people’s rights? These big power companies use the tax payers’ rights-a-way do we get any money out of that no.
*We welcome your comments on the stories and issues of the day and seek to provide a forum for the community to voice opinions. All comments are subject to moderator approval before being made visible on the website but are not edited. The use of profanity, obscene and vulgar language, hate speech, and racial slurs is strictly prohibited. Advertisements, promotions, and spam will also be rejected. Please read our terms of service for full guides