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Stopping solar in the South

From the Inter Press Service News Agency

Big Energy Firms Blocking Solar Power in South

By Matthew Cardinale

ATLANTA, Georgia, Mar 31, 2010 (IPS) – As citizens, businesses and non-profit organisations seek to transition to cleaner power sources like solar and wind, some big energy firms whose business models rely on polluting sources are standing in the way.

In Georgia, the energy company Georgia Power has lobbied for favourable public policies at the Public Service Commission (PSC) and State legislature that are making it difficult for the state’s residents to transition to solar power.

IPS learned that the Dekalb County school system wanted to put solar panels on their schools, but could not do it because of state policies like the Territorial Electric Service Act of 1973 which gives Georgia Power a monopoly over the purchase of energy.

“In Georgia, we have about a dozen state policies preventing creation of solar energy,” James Marlow, vice chair of the Georgia Solar Energy Association, told IPS. “One of those is the Territorial Act.”

“If you’re looking at a school, one of the common ways [of setting up solar panels] is using a power purchase agreement or PPA,” Marlow said.

Typically, one of the biggest obstacles for businesses and organisations to switch to solar energy is the initial cost of obtaining and installing the panels. A PPA allows a school system, for example, to obtain the panels for no cost from a solar installation company which finances the panels.

Then, the school can purchase the energy from the solar installation company, which would own the panels, for a 20-year period. Marlow said that a PPA client typically pays for the panels after the first five years and then saves money on energy for the next 15, all the while avoiding the use of dirty energy.

However, because of Georgia’s Territorial Act, individuals, organisations, and businesses with solar panels can only sell their energy to Georgia Power. This means they cannot enter a PPA with a solar installation company and may have difficulty affording the panels in the first place.

Other states like Colorado have taken a different approach to encourage the use of solar panels. They charge all energy customers 50 cents a month, a very low amount, to support the purchase of solar energy from producers.

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Hat tip to Doug’s Dynamic Drivel