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First solar utility puts money back in ratepayer pockets

Georgia Solar Utility, Inc. (GaSU) has proposed plans to deploy 2GW of clean energy within the next four years to diversify the state’s energy portfolio and to let ratepayers benefit from the profits created through solar power.

The company filed a petition with the Georgia Public Service Commission (GPSC) on September 20, 2012, asking to be authorized to undertake large scale solar development in Georgia. Initial plans include an 80MW solar PV farm as part of the first 500MW-phase. The petition asks for GaSU to create an optimized distributed generation system able to integrate and respond to the existing centralized generation system in a balanced way.

Having waited to start utility scale solar development, Georgia has no legacy issues with previous development and is now able to use an organized planning approach over larger territories. Georgia can build a smarter grid by requiring GaSU and the electric companies to work together to solve the technical issues of distributed generation while addressing the best interests of ratepayers. This will have electrical engineers, not investors, making decisions of materials and system locations.

Financial models of Feed-in-Tariffs or Power-Purchase-Agreements siphon the utility’s revenues. GaSU will pay the profits on the utility revenues it takes while creating a freer market than currently exists. Solar profits will also create a Rate Reduction Fund (RRF). Using the RRFs to pay dividends back to the ratepayers, much like EMCs or mutual insurance companies is more in the best interest of ratepayers than any other financing model.

Indisputably, Georgia’s greatest natural resource is the sun. It can be harvested just like any other agricultural product. Inclusion of utility scale solar energy would be a much needed diversification in the state’s energy mix and create an entire new industry.

A recent study by the University of Arizona has in fact rated Georgia is one of the top three states in the entire U.S. that could benefit economically from solar generation and export of solar energy. The state’s location, infrastructure, workforce and exceptional solar radiation were prime factors in the rating. The harvested energy could also be exported to neighboring states or help end the practice of buying very expensive power from out of state at peak times.

National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) calculated Georgia’s rural solar potential at 3,000 GW. Only 2GW of solar energy would create an unparalleled economic investment in the state, stimulate many new jobs and boost much needed state and local revenues. GaSU will distribute profits in the amount of $15+ billion to ratepayers over 40 years. Funded by private capital, the business model is based on a 20 to 25 year bond structure with no federal loans or subsidies other than the standard 30 percent FED ITC.