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How Southern Company Keeps Solar Competition Out of Georgia

Georgia has about 12 laws on the books to make it difficult for solar power to compete head to head with fossil power. All twelve were lobbied for successfully by Georgia Power, and its parent Southern Company. But the most effective of the twelve anti-competitive laws is the Territorial Electric Service Act which gives the utility a monopoly over “the purchase of energy”.

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The cheapest way to get solar is to just purchase the energy. Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) can deliver clean power at a lower cost than utility power.

Under a PPA, you simply buy the electricity from the the solar panels on your roof – just like you now buy the electricity from your utility now.

Shouldn’t any solar business be able to sell you solar power off your roof? In California, and Colorado and many states they can.

I am not sure why the Southern Company is not regulated by the FTC for restraint of trade. Forbidding “the purchase of energy” – except from them – constitutes imposing  an anti-competitive monopoly.

Power purchase agreements compete directly with your current electricity bill, because just like you don’t have to buy the actual coal-fired power station that your utility sells you the power from – under a PPA, you don’t buy the solar panels on your roof, but just pay monthly for the power they generate.

You don’t have to invest in your own coal plant to get dirty power – you just pay for the power. (And pay. And pay, and pay , with hidden costs amounting to 8 cents a kwh of asthma and brain damage and an unsafe future climate.)

The fossil interests that spread the disinformation that solar is more expensive than fossil energy, are really asking you to compare the cost of buying an entire power station (a solar system on your roof – that will generate power for 40 years or more) with a monthly payment for just electricity (paying a monthly power bill) that comes from the utility coal or gas-fired power plant.

Of course it sounds terrifyingly expensive to put in your own solar if you compare it with a little monthly electricity bill. Who cares if you could buy a house with what you save with solar over 25 years. It’s just the next month’s bill that matters to most of us.

Yet PPAs can compete on price with utilities – when you buy the power monthly. In many states it is cheaper to pay for solar than for dirty power, when its paid for the same way.

In my own experience canvassing with SunRun, for example, I see that this amounts to as little as 12 cents a kilowatt hour for some options, 25 cents for others – and that is a flat rate for 18 years. Yet Californians PG&E rates are increasing at 7% every year, and they can be charged almost 50 cents now for PG&E power, if they use a lot.

So solar is competitive with traditional power – when paid for the same way.

This is why the Georgia Power has forbid “the purchase of energy”. Instead it is building two new coal plants and two nuclear reactors in the state.

“The clean technologies are here today. The companies are blocking the market,” said Erin Glynn, director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. “They are trying to block clean energy by trying to flood the market with cheap, dirty energy.”

While many big utility companies employed two dozen or more lobbyists to oppose the clean energy bill; Georgia Power’s parent company, Southern Company, employed three times as many – 63 lobbyists to fight the recent federal clean energy bill.

But the Senate should attempt to end the anti-competitive nature of  these “purchase of energy” monopolies like that long held by the  Southern Company, simply as part of financial reform.

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writes at CleanTechnica, CSP-Today and Renewable Energy World.  She has also been published at Wind Energy Update, Solar Plaza, Earthtechling PV-Insider , and GreenProphet, Ecoseed, NRDC OnEarth, MatterNetwork, Celsius, EnergyNow, and Scientific American. As a former serial entrepreneur in product design, Susan brings an innovator's perspective on inventing a carbon-constrained civilization: If necessity is the mother of invention, solving climate change is the mother of all necessities! As a lover of history and sci-fi, she enjoys chronicling the strange future we are creating in these interesting times.    Follow Susan on Twitter @dotcommodity.

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