Koch-Funded Group Misleads Georgia on Solar

July 10, 2013 | 11:26 am
Mike Jacobs
Senior Energy Analyst

UPDATE, July 11: GA Regulators vote 4- 1 for more solar. We describe how to keep rates low in our update at the bottom of the page.

The Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) will vote this week on a new proposal requiring Georgia Power, the state’s largest utility, to use more solar energy.

It’s a nonpartisan plan supported by the Atlanta Tea Party Patriots as a way to diversify the state’s energy portfolio and save consumers money. 

Photo: Dennis Schroeder / NREL

Proud owner looking at solar panel installation. Photo: Dennis Schroeder / NREL

Georgia ranks among the top 5 states for solar potential, but only ranks 21stnd in the nation for installed solar capacity, according to SEIA. Entrepreneurs are just starting to tap into The Peach State’s vast solar resource, and  the state is already home to more than 135 companies putting Georgians to work in the solar value chain.

Investing in renewables stabilizes energy prices

Requiring utilities to obtain a portion of their electricity from renewables will fuel the growth of Georgia’s budding clean energy industry, just as similar policies have done in many other states at little to no cost to consumers. Investing in renewable energy can do more to stabilize energy prices and create jobs in Georgia than coal, natural gas, or nuclear.

Georgia Power is already committed to contracting for a smaller amount, 210 megawatts, of solar capacity as part of a voluntary solar energy power purchase program.  Georgia Power uses 20-year power purchase agreements to buy the energy output from solar projects, which is a better approach than the guaranteed cost recovery Georgia Power is granted for nuclear and coal plants it builds.

Now, a proposal by Georgia PSC Commissioner Lauren “Bubba” McDonald, a Republican, would require the utility to effectively double down on solar. In considering this proposal, PSC officials are considering what would happen to electricity rates if Georgia Power is required to obtain around 1 percent of its electricity from solar?

Koch brothers-funded group cites misleading figures

Enter Americans for Prosperity (AFP), a special interest group founded and funded by those wily oil and coal billionaires the Koch brothers.

The Associated Press is calling out AFP for citing “misleading figures” in opposing the new solar requirement.  At issue is AFP’s false claim that “If Bubba has his way, your electricity bill could increase by as much as 40 percent.”

AP sets the record straight by pointing out the obvious, that adding the equivalent of 1 percent of Georgia Power’s electricity generating capacity worth of new solar is unlikely to result in that kind of increase in electricity rates. Where does AFP’s wildly inflated statistic come from? The Institute for Energy Research, another special interest group funded by – you guessed it – the Koch brothers.

Georgia is just the latest state where Koch-funded groups have been caught red handed peddling misinformation about policies requiring more use of renewable energy. In February, AFP delivered a similar whopper while testifying before state legislators in Kansas, projecting that the state’s 20 percent by 2020 renewable electricity standard (RES) would increase electricity rates by 45 percent. Once again AFP cited a Koch-funded think tank, this time the Beacon Hill Institute.

The misinformation does not stop at renewable energy. A recent post on the AFP Georgia website denies the overwhelming scientific consensus that carbon dioxide emitted by the burning of fossil fuels  is a major cause of global warming. The author is a policy advisor for the Koch-funded Heartland Institute, a special interest group best known for its misleading attacks on science. Just last year, Heartland claimed, “…the most prominent advocates of global warming aren’t scientists. They are murderers, tyrants and madmen.”

Investment in renewables is paying off

Real world data from the Kansas Corporation Commission show that the state’s two largest utilities are more than halfway to meeting the RES, thanks to recent investments that have resulted in a modest 1.7 percent rate increase.  Ultimately, Kansans chose clean energy fact over fossil fuel fiction, and did so in bipartisan fashion.

Even Georgia Power acknowledges its customers see savings from wind energy the utility purchase from Oklahoma and Kansas.

Outside fossil fuel interests undoubtedly see Georgia’s ongoing transition away from coal and towards cleaner sources of electricity as a threat to their bottom line.  Georgia Power sent $2.56 billion out of state to import coal in 2008. Today, the utility is poised to retire 16 old, inefficient, and dirty coal-burning and oil-fired power plants that are no longer economically viable.

Opportunity for Georgia

Georgia should seize this opportunity to keep energy dollars local while protecting the environment and public health by requiring utilities to invest in homegrown renewable energy.

With solar companies popping up all over the state and more people using solar energy every day, there is no reason to let out of state oil and coal interests dictate Georgia’s energy policy.

UPDATE—July 11 6:10PM EDT

Thursday, the GA Public Service Commission decided that the Georgia Power Company electric supply should include 525 MW of added solar power. If GA Power makes this addition through purchases of energy from solar farms, the consumer will be protected from exaggerated claims or poor results. A purchase agreement that only pays for the produced energy puts the risks on the developers of the solar arrays. And as all of GA Power’s solar supplies will be less than 1% of their power mix, we can make some comparisons to the 259 MW built and 0.2% solar required in North Carolina by 2018. Average customer bills there have risen less than 25 cents per month for that solar, plus all the other new renewable energy added.  See more in our report.