Georgia Power fires back over distributed generation shortfall

Source: Kristi E. Swartz, E&E reporter • Posted: Tuesday, October 4, 2016

ATLANTA — The shortfall of small, distributed solar projects on the grid is not Georgia Power’s fault, the utility said in response to allegations from a solar industry group.

The utility is supposed to have 100 megawatts of distributed solar projects on the grid by the end of the year as part of its long-term energy plan that state regulators approved in 2013. The Georgia Public Service Commission approved 65 MW worth of projects, but a state solar industry group said it’s unclear whether the remainder will be vetted and online by December.

The Georgia Solar Energy Industries Association (GSEIA) asked the PSC essentially to compel Georgia Power to evaluate the rest of the projects so the individual solar developers can get them built and interconnected to the grid (EnergyWire, Sept. 13). Georgia Power argues that program violations and participant withdrawals after contracts were awarded were principal reasons why this hasn’t happened and that it’s not the company’s fault.

In fact, Georgia Power, the PSC staff and an independent monitor have “worked tirelessly” reviewing roughly 400 of these projects, totaling more than 300 MW, the company said. More than half of those — in megawatts — have been disqualified, Georgia Power said.

“Had successful program participants not terminated or withdrawn winning projects after being awarded a [long-term contract], the 100 MW distributed generation portfolio would have been fully subscribed, and the program would have been closed,” the utility said in a sharply worded filing.

The company also said it is “very close” to evaluating all projects submitted as well as the ones on the reserve list to complete the 100 MW. It is on track to fully vet all projects with the exception of those on greenfield sites, the filing said.

Georgia Power also extended last Friday’s deadline to make sure it can review all project applications, a company spokesman said.

“To ensure all applications are fully evaluated, the Sept. 30 deadline has been extended to Nov. 30, 2016,” John Kraft said in a statement emailed to EnergyWire.

Continued challenges

The issue stretches far beyond three dozen outstanding megawatts. The GSEIA and Georgia Power documents clearly show continued challenges with the small and rooftop solar market in Georgia. These range from policy barriers to case-by-case problems.

They also formalize ongoing personality tensions between the utility and some solar developers as well as the attorneys who advocate for them, with many of the arguments being reduced to a “he said, she said.”

In the filing, Georgia Power frequently points to “a small group of developers” or a specific developer without naming the contractor or company. On the flip side, 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.

It is one of many battles between the two sides over small solar projects. The other is the cost-benefit debate to properly value excess solar that is sold back to the grid. Such discussion has dragged on for more than two years.

Beyond that, the distributed solar projects are key for Georgia Power in meeting a widely stated 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).

Customers with distributed solar typically use those small arrays to curb their own electricity use. With these projects, all of the solar energy produced flows out onto the grid.

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 have left the contractors with plenty of time to build and connect the projects to the grid before Dec. 31, but it hasn’t happened.

Georgia Power believed it would be able to evaluate and award projects within six months, the utility said in its filing. There were three main problems, however.

The company, PSC staff and independent monitor disqualified more than 100 MW worth of projects because they exceeded $10,000 of capital improvements or system upgrades. In other cases, the project’s bidder or associates withdrew the project. A small amount simply didn’t meet the guidelines.

Such issues weren’t anticipated, but the company has adjusted for them, the filing said.

Kraft said more distributed projects will be on the grid by the end of the year. Projects that are evaluated and approved within the next 60 days will have until 2017 to be built and connected to the grid, he said.