By Chuck Eaton, Georgia Public Service Commission
Solar energy has become a polarizing ideological debate, with many on the left treating it as a religious crusade, while many of us on the right believe it’s a boondoggle designed to favor Obama supporters.
The bad name solar energy has in Republican and conservative circles is based on the way it’s been over-hyped and oversold by the left and, in some cases, by those with a financial interest in the technology.
In Republican politics, solar energy is synonymous with failed big government policies, in part because of money schemes like Solyndra and taxpayer-subsidized automobiles.
I believe that solar technology is not inherently liberal; it’s the way in which it is implemented that marks solar programs as liberal or conservative.
With the cost of solar installations falling dramatically, some say as much as 75%, we can now discuss deploying solar power without the subsidies, waste, and cronyism that seems to pervade government solar initiatives. The only way we can responsibly implement more solar power is to require that it does not increase rates, and that solar programs include competitive mechanisms to ensure the lowest cost.
From my perspective, solar energy should be evaluated on its own merits as a source of safe and reliable electricity at competitive prices. For energy independence and lower rates, solar can be part of a diversified energy portfolio if the price is right.
The Georgia Public Service Commission has been criticized by the left for not developing enough solar capacity on a timeline to satisfy their ideological desires. Since solar is almost 100% capital costs, with relatively small ongoing costs and no fuel requirement, the dramatic drop in solar panel costs will save Georgians millions of dollars over states that implemented solar earlier when the technology was less mature and much more expensive.
By being cautious and responsible, instead of following liberal special interests groups, the Georgia Public Service Commission can now consider adding solar to our power portfolio at much lower costs to Georgia families. This helps keep our rates low and gives our state a significant economic advantage in attracting jobs over other states that have implemented solar before it was economically viable.
As we have seen with the repeal of the sales tax on energy used in manufacturing, which the members of the Public Service Commission supported, and Governor Deal signed into law, lower energy costs not only benefit families, but it can help Georgia attract more new jobs.
I’ve been working on a new solar program with Georgia Power. The details will be released soon, but if a majority of the Commission votes to approve the measure, it will be build on the 50 megawatt program previously implemented.
In discussing this solar initiative, I laid out a three parameters: first, it shouldn’t cause higher rates; second, it must be a good strategic fit; and third, bids to provide utility scale solar power should be subject to a competitive bidding process to ensure the best value to ratepayers.
If the plan is implemented, Georgia will have affordable solar power generation without compromising the reliability of our system or rewarding politically favored companies. Implementing solar without government mandates allows us to focus on where solar makes the most economic sense.
As the Obama Administration and its Environmental Protection Agency continue to force electric rates up through burdensome policies, solar will play a larger role in our electric supply. In Georgia, economical use of solar can help us hedge against the increasing costs of future regulations from the federal government, while it leaves more money in the pockets of families, and helps attract more jobs.
Chuck Eaton is a conservative, Republican member of the Georgia Public Service Commission, first elected in 2006.