Solar Firm Ready To Go, Despite Obstacles

Source: Bloomberg Business Week

Sept. 20--A new solar company wants to add more sun power to Georgia's grid and compete with Georgia Power and other utilities.

Georgia Solar Utilities said it plans to build as much as 2 gigawatts of solar electricity capacity in the state by 2016. The company asked the Georgia Public Service Commission Thursday morning to be considered as a regulated utility.

To get started, Georgia Solar Utilities wants to build an 80-megawatt solar farm in Putnam County. The solar array would hook up to Georgia Power's grid. Georgia Solar Utilities would sell the electricity directly to customers.

But it's not that simple.

To operate as a utility, a company must win federal and state approvals as well as gain transmission rights to the grid. The PSC likely would review the request in a process that could take six months or more.

"There are obstacles, there's no question there are obstacles, but you have to look at the rewards," Georgia Solar president Robert Green said at a Capitol news conference. "We don't know what it's going to take, but we are prepared to go through legislative action if necessary."

But any move to help the company in the legislature would likely face strong opposition from Georgia Power and the municipal and electric cooperatives. A Georgia Power spokesman said the utility is still reviewing Georgia Solar Utilities' request.

PSC Commissioners Bubba McDonald and Doug Everett attended Georgia Solar Utilities's news conference in support. Later, the two made it clear that the PSC would have to review the company's plan as well as any others.

"If it goes down, it goes down, if it needs further work to go in a different direction, that's what we'll do," McDonald said.

PSC member Chuck Eaton has been working with Georgia Power behind the scenes on a solar plan expected to be released early next week. It's expected to call for utility-scale solar projects -- large-megawatt projects where the electricity typically is sold directly to a utility instead of to individual homes or businesses. The solar power generated would be"significantly" more than the 50 megawatts Georgia Power must have on the grid by 2015 under a prior agreement with the PSC.

"I'm confident that our plan will not raise rates," Eaton said.