The Face of Climate Change in America


How is climate change affecting the United States right now? What about the part of the country where you live? These questions are now a lot easier to answer with the release of a major new draft report: The National Climate Assessment.

As we pointed out a few days ago, this report is a very big deal. It comes out every four years, and is the most comprehensive report on climate change in the United States. It not only tells us what scientists project for the future, but also how climate change is affecting the nation right now.

Here’s what we know: Climate change is already part of our lives. Some kinds of extreme weather are on the rise, including heat waves, heavy downpours, and in some regions, coastal floods and droughts. There is increasing evidence that some of these events are linked to man-made climate change. The impacts of climate disruption threaten our health, damage our infrastructure, and put the security of our food and water supplies at risk.

But that’s not all. The National Climate Assessment breaks down the impacts of climate change by region, so you can get the details on what’s happening in your part of the country. That’s incredibly valuable information to have — especially as we call on our mayors, governors, and community leaders to prepare for the impacts of climate change and reduce pollution for the future.

Since the report is only a draft, now’s your chance to get involved. You can submit a comment by visiting their website. We hope and expect this report will begin a national conversation about climate change.

Please take a moment to look at the report, share it with your friends, and watch this page for more information on climate change impacts across the country.

Solar Power Gets A Boost


By: Walter C. Jones

Georgia’s elected utility regulators gave a nod Tuesday to companies looking to compete with Georgia Power on solar energy, but it didn’t come without a fight.

New start-up Georgia Solar Utilities is planning to ask state lawmakers for a monopoly on the sale of solar power in the state to compete with Georgia Power’s 40-year-old monopoly on the sale of all electricity within its territory.

In a highly contentious meeting, the Public Service Commission voted to support efforts to clear the way—legally—for more solar, without endorsing Georgia Solar Utilities by name. 

The resolution was purely symbolic, but significant, argued Commissioner Lauren "Bubba" McDonald, who has made no secret of his support for Georgia Solar's plan.

"I believe that this is in the best interest of Georgians, that this commission take the appropriate action to encourage parties [...] to bring innovative solutions to our consideration," McDonald said.

But Commissioner Stan Wise, who has made no secret of his opposition to Georgia Solar’s proposal, bristled at notion that the commission would endorse a private, for-profit company's legislative agenda. "That is inappropriate," he said.

McDonald shot back that regulators pick and choose among private companies all the time. 

The motion passed 3-2, not without Wise sneaking in this parting dig: "Will we wear our commission badges when we lobby the legislature or will we wear our Georgia Solar badges, commissioners?"

With that accusation of conflict-of-interest, the ball is now in the Georgia General Assembly's court.

In the same meeting though, commissioners unanimously approved Georgia Power's plan to swap solar for biomass in its energy portfolio, after the company postponed plans to convert the coal-fired Plant Mitchell near Albany into a biomass-burning plant. 

Between the advancement of these two competing plans to expand solar energy, it was a good day for Georgia electricity customers, said Elena Parent, executive director of the consumer advocacy organization Georgia Watch.

"We’re very pleased to see that there is more discussion and opportunities for solar power here in Georgia and a recognition that solar power will be a good thing for consumers," Parent said. "But we’re always mindful of consumer’s pocketbooks and keeping utility rates low."

Georgia Watch, like most advocates, is staying neutral in the fight between Georgia Power and Georgia Solar Utilities until both plans are closer to reality.

Solar Struggle: A Rise Of Poorly Made PV Modules?

Solar becomes battleground for Georgia electricity regulation


By S. Heather Duncan

An upstart solar company co-founded by a Macon man is taking aim at Georgia Power’s monopoly on retail electricity. And its first solar project, which would be larger than any other in the state, is proposed for Middle Georgia.

Claiming that Georgia’s energy Goliath is blocking development of a potential major industry and cheap energy source, Georgia Solar Utilities’ Sept. 20 proposal to become the solar “mirror image” of Georgia Power is slated for consideration by the Georgia Public Service Commission at an administrative meeting Tuesday.

Georgia Solar Utilities proposes to build and operate two gigawatts of large-scale solar farms and sell the energy directly to residents. The first project would generate 80 to 90 megawatts of electricity in Putnam County near Georgia Power’s Plant Branch, where two coal-fired generators are slated to close next year, said Robert Green of Macon, president of Georgia Solar Utilities.

Georgia Power has only 11 megawatts of solar generation now. Fifty more are scheduled to go on the grid by the middle of 2015, but the company proposed them only in response to a challenge by Public Service Commissioner Lauren “Bubba” McDonald Jr.

Green said, “The reason we filed the way we did was because Georgia Power had steadfastly refused to develop (Georgia’s) solar resources,” estimated by Electricity Journal to be the third greatest among U.S. states.

Divided by source?

The Public Service Commission regulates Georgia Power and regional electric cooperatives, which divide up the state’s customers geographically under the Territorial Rights Act of 1972. Georgia Solar Utilities hopes to divide out its own customer base, not by geography but by energy source. Rather than seeking to topple the monopoly system, the company wants to join it by being granted the same privileges as Georgia Power.

Georgia Solar Utilities would become the sole provider for all customers who receive their energy from the sun, because, Green said, centralized planning is needed to set materials standards and to reduce weather vulnerability.

But Georgia Power attorney Kevin Greene told the PSC Energy Committee on Thursday that Georgia Solar’s “fundamental request is that the commission grant them a billion-dollar monopoly. The Legislature hasn’t authorized this commission to pre-select the winners and losers in solar.”

At that meeting, PSC employees recommended that the commission refuse to consider Georgia Solar’s request because it oversteps the PSC’s authority: It would require a change in Georgia law.

Green acknowledged that, but said, “There’s no way in the world the Legislature is going to do anything with us unless we have the support of the PSC.”

At the Energy Committee meeting, McDonald said, “I know what the Territorial Rights Act was all about: I was there, I voted on it, and I saw the passion of the cities, EMCs and Georgia Power. ... It’s worked well, it’s done a great job, but ... we’ve got, as a society, to take advantage of the God-given things we have.”

But other PSC members expressed scepticism about spending staff time and energy on holding hearings or verifying Georgia Solar Utilities’ financial viability when the commission lacks jurisdiction. The commission will discuss how to proceed Tuesday.

State legislators have been reluctant to change the Territorial Rights Act, fearing they would open the door to electricity deregulation. Georgia Power successfully lobbied to sidetrack last year’s effort to allow homeowners to buy solar power from companies that shoulder the cost of installing solar panels on home roofs.

Legal right to the grid?

Green and his partner, then operating as solar development company Greenavations, had previously proposed developing the Putnam solar project for Georgia Power, but the company declined. Georgia Power officials said this was partly because the PSC had just ruled that the company didn’t need so much generating capacity.

But Georgia Power spokesman John Kraft said Monday that the Putnam project would also have put “$170 million of upward pressure on rates.”

The Putnam County project was financed in such a way that Georgia Power would have owned the solar array, but Georgia Power currently believes it can provide solar power better by bidding out 20-year power purchase agreements to solar developers who own the solar arrays, Kraft said.

Green argues Georgia Power doesn’t have the legal right to control access to the grid that Georgia rate payers funded.

“That’s the claim AT&T made when MCI sued” under anti-trust laws, eventually breaking up AT&T into smaller companies, Green said, adding, “I hope we don’t have to go there.”

Attorney Greene, on the other hand, says Georgia Power shareholders paid for the grid through debt and equity.

Georgia Solar Utilities proposes to pay Georgia Power for use of the grid, but it would also depend on Georgia Power for backup power for customers during times when solar is not available and would rely on Georgia Power for customer service and billing. There is no mention of reimbursing Georgia Power for these services.

In its reply to Georgia Solar Utilities’ proposal, Georgia Power argues that Georgia Solar “can’t be a ‘mirror image’ without the same responsibilities.”

“Creating a business model that knowingly requires another utility to involuntarily shoulder the significant shortcomings of its plan flies directly in the face of the fundamental requirement of a public utility to ensure adequate service,” Georgia Power states in its reply.

Shortly after Georgia Solar Utilities submitted its proposal to the PSC, Georgia Power presented a large new solar proposal of its own: replacing 210 megawatts of biomass energy projects that had fallen through with an equal amount of new solar capacity. It would be the largest voluntary solar program in the South, or in any state without a renewable energy requirement, Greene said.

The projects would go online over three years starting in 2013 but would involve 20-year power purchase contracts. They would include a portion of utility-scale solar farms -- which Greene invited Georgia Solar to bid on -- and a portion of small-to medium-sized projects that could include homeowners or businesses that install solar panels on their roofs, Kraft said.

McDonald pointed out that Georgia Power’s 20-year contracts lock in a rate that is likely to be higher than the market rate as solar technology improves. The PSC will also likely discuss this solar proposal Tuesday.

Solar developers who bid on the utility-scale projects could charge no more than 12 cents per kilowatt-hour. Georgia Power officials argue that this is less than what Georgia Solar Utilities proposes to charge, but Green said an apples-to-apples comparison would reveal that Georgia Solar’s rate was lower.

Solar advocates have been unusually silent about the Georgia Solar proposal.

The Georgia Solar Energy Association and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy filed comments with the PSC commending Georgia Power for its solar plan, urging only a few tweaks in reporting and the PSC approval process.

Executive Director Jessica Moore said the Georgia Solar Energy Association is excited to see rising interest in solar expansion, but offered no specific comments on the Georgia Solar Utilities proposal. Amelia Shenstone with the alliance said the group is not willing to comment on it either.

But JaLynn Hudnall, executive director of the Heart of Georgia Energy Coalition, said the Georgia Solar Utilities proposal to create its own monopoly is not what’s best for Georgia residents because true competition drives down prices.

Hudnall praised both Georgia Solar and Georgia Power for putting more “skin in the game” but said, “We want to see more choice and more competition where the homeowner/business owner is the ultimate decision maker.”

Read more here:

Solar power in Georgia draws energy conference discussion, debate

Georgia, not Florida, is the “Sunshine State,” at least with clean energy industry insiders.

The ongoing fracas between Georgia Power and solar energy startup Georgia Solar Utilities was a surface-of-the-sun hot topic on the final day of the Savannah International Clean Energy Conference.

 Georgia Solar Utilities wants to build a large solar farm within the state and has petitioned the Georgia Public Service Commission to sell the electricity directly to customers rather than to Georgia Power or other providers within Georgia.

Georgia Power has challenged Georgia Solar’s request. It argues allowing the Macon-based company to operate as a utility would violate Georgia Power’s standing as a regulated monopoly and would “create barriers to future solar development.”

Attendees at the Savannah International Clean Energy Conference pressed utility company representatives, including Chris Hobson of Georgia Power’s parent company, Southern Company, on the solar issue during sessions Tuesday. Solar is a growing part of the energy-production portfolio, those utility officials countered, and will continue to be so. 

Georgia Power recently proposed to acquire 210 megawatts of additional solar capacity over a three-year period, which would give the utility 271 megawatts of solar capacity, enough to power 117,000 homes.

While no direct mention to Georgia Solar Utilities was made, the notion of Georgia as home to a large solar farm was a recurring theme throughout the day. Officials with the German-American Chamber of Commerce pointed to the success of solar energy production in Germany as proof that states like Georgia could benefit from solar initiatives.

Germany’s solar farms produced 22 gigawatts of power on a recent weekend, equivalent to the output of 20 nuclear plants, and have the capacity to produce 28 gigawatts of electricity, or enough to power 12.6 million homes. Solar facilities provide approximately 3 percent of Germany’s power. 

Projections are solar will provide 25 percent of the nation’s power by 2050.

“And Germany is farther north than Georgia,” said Dennis McGinn, a retired naval rear admiral and the president of the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE). “In terms of latitude, it’s on the same line as Canada. Georgia gets a lot more sun.”

Twice as much sun in terms of generating kilowatt hours, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

The solar discussion tracked with a larger conference theme – the need for a “level playing field” for renewable energy initiatives. A government subsidy for wind energy, known as a production tax credit, is to expire at the end of the year. Meanwhile, subsidies for oil and gas, with a value of between $5 billion and $25 billion a year, will continue.

Leveling the playing field, if even for a period as brief of five years, would benefit the renewable energy innovators because of the rapid decline in the cost of renewables. As costs decline, renewables become more competitive with fossil fuels.

“We’re about to have a debate over taxes in this country, and the question is what measuring stick are we going to have for these subsidies,” said Phyllis Cuttino, director of the Pew Clean Energy Program, an advocacy group. “Are we going to continue to have subsidies for technology that is over 100 years old? Are we going to have term-limited subsidies for renewable energy?

“There is a lot at stake.”

Increasing subsidies for renewable energy or eliminating those breaks for fossil fuels aren’t the only field-leveling tools available. Other tax-based incentives are possible, including credits for public-private partnerships.

Another idea, albeit a controversial one, is a carbon tax. Just as cigarette taxes have gradually reduced the number of smokers in the country, a fossil fuel tax would push energy companies to be innovative in formulating their product, ACORE’s McGinn said.

“With a carbon tax, it becomes an issue where, ‘Can we use it? Sure. But there are costs,’” McGinn said. “A carbon tax would start to shift or accelerate the economic shift toward a clean-energy economy.”