Advocates press Georgia Power to fulfill solar plan

Source: Kristi E. Swartz, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, September 14, 2016

ATLANTA — Solar advocates are demanding that Georgia Power fulfill its promise to add 100 megawatts of distributed solar projects to the grid by the end of the year.

The Georgia Solar Energy Industries Association last week filed documents asking state utility regulators to enforce Georgia Power’s 2013 integrated resource plan, which called for 525 MW of utility-scale and distributed solar projects to be added to the grid by the end of 2016. The Georgia Public Service Commission has approved 65 MW of the 100 MW of distributed projects, and it’s unclear whether the balance will be reviewed by the end of the year, GSEIA attorneys said.

“The commission should require the company to complete its review of projects and award the full 100MWs approved by this commission as long as there are outstanding projects waiting to be reviewed,” the document said.

PSC Chairman Chuck Eaton told EnergyWire the commission will take up the issue at a future meeting.

The formal document is the latest salvo between some members of Georgia’s growing solar community and the state’s regulated electric company. The groups have fought for years about the cost and benefits of distributed solar and over removing policy barriers to rooftop solar.

Solar developers, clean energy advocates, industry groups and others have complained in the background for months about what they see as problems with Georgia Power’s distributed generation program. Some have aired out grievances as part of the utility’s IRP proceedings.

Georgia Power did not confirm the accuracy of GSEIA’s filing to EnergyWire, nor did it answer questions about the alleged problems with the distributed generation program. A company spokesman said the utility will file its own response with the PSC soon.

The company did, however, express its displeasure with GSEIA.

“GSEIA continues to make unnecessary filings at the Georgia PSC and this is the latest example. Georgia Power is reviewing GSEIA’s latest filing and preparing a formal response that will address the inaccuracies and misleading allegations in GSEIA’s motion,” spokesman John Kraft said in an email to EnergyWire.

Kraft said Georgia Power continues to work with a variety of solar developers and interested parties to fill remaining quantities of distributed solar under the Advanced Solar Initiative program. It’s clear that small and rooftop solar projects will likely continue to struggle to be a part of the energy mix, however, based on the company’s comments.

“With innovative and complex programs, adjustments are sometimes needed to ensure they meet the program goals and best serve the state’s electric customers. We have long said that utility-scale solar offers the best economics for Georgia Power’s customers and overall has proven easier to bring to market thus far,” he said.

Delays

Georgia Power has widely stated its goal of having 1 gigawatt of solar on the grid by the end of the year. The utility will fall roughly 100 MW short of that goal (EnergyWire, Aug. 26). About 35 MW of that shortfall is coming from the non-contracted, unapproved distributed generation projects, according to GSEIA’s filing.

Such projects once were awarded through a lottery system, but now half are chosen through a competitive bidding process after long, heated debates at the PSC (EnergyWire, March 18, 2015).

Georgia Power originally said it would select half of the remaining 100 MW worth of projects by the end of last year and the rest in January. That would’ve left the contractors with plenty of time to build and connect the projects to the grid before Dec. 31, but it hasn’t happened.

Even though the process has been delayed more than six months, Georgia Power has not given solar contractors additional time to complete their solar projects, GSEIA said. What’s more, developers must pay thousands in liquidated damages for not meeting their deadlines.

“A project awarded and approved in March 2016 has approximately 10 months to reach [the required commercial operation date], but a projected awarded and approved in July 2016 has only five,” the document said.

GSEIA is also concerned that the utility will stop evaluating distributed projects after Sept. 30, based on a note on the ASI project website. The solar group accused the company of making the decision without consulting with anyone else.

“Commission staff, the independent evaluator and the company have jointly reviewed all program decisions and schedule adjustments made to date; these were not made unilaterally,” Kraft said.

“Our programs are driving cost-effective solar development for our customers and we continue to work closely with the Georgia PSC and all interveners to ensure we have the strongest and best programs possible without putting upward pressure on rates,” he said.