State Starts to Embrace Alternative Energy Use; Rep. Parsons, Chairman of House Energy Committee, Pushes for Proactive Policy

Article excerpt

Byline: Walter C. Jones

ATLANTA | Georgia's latest solar-power installation went online Thursday, adding another tile in the mosaic of the state's alternative-energy picture.

The picture is a miniature compared with other states in the percentage of its electricity that is generated by alternative sources like solar, wind and biomass. North Carolina has 108 megawatts of operating solar panels while Georgia has just 18, with the latest addition.

A politically "red state" like Georgia has never been known for legions of granola-munching, sandal-wearing tree huggers or as a leader in the use of alternative fuels, but some buttoned-down business executives are pushing it that way, even if they do clash with stereotypes.

"There is no conflict between being a conservative and being a friend to renewable energy," said Rep. Don Parsons, the Republican chairman of the House Energy, Utilities & Telecommunications Committee. "... That's one of the problems you run into when you talk about alternative energy. They get the feeling that you've turned [to the left] or whatever."

Parsons, who's served on the committee 18 years, contends the state has never had an energy plan. He is calling for government officials to be more proactive in dictating policy, including greater use of alternative fuels.

There have been some efforts. The General Assembly enacted a requirement that the government's fleet use a minimum of biodiesel. It also created tax credits for installation of solar equipment, but the $5 million yearly maximum for the state draws complaints from industry insiders as too small.

During the last session, solar advocates rallied behind Senate Bill 401 by Sen. Buddy Carter, R-Pooler, which would have opened the door to property owners who want solar panels financed through the sale of surplus electricity to private customers, something only regulated utilities can do now.

The bill bogged down in a Senate committee after intensive lobbying by Georgia Power and the state's electric-membership cooperatives who feared the consequences of the measure.

"Being scared is a right way to say this. The power companies are scared about this issue," said Parsons, R-Marietta.

POLICY GOAL

Observers say a major concern for them is amending the law that divvied up the state into monopoly territories. Its passage four decades ago after years of bitter wrangling between them is a series of feuds the companies aren't eager to revisit.

Another policy goal is something insiders call "net metering." That's the requirement that Georgia Power pay retail rates to buy surplus electricity from customers. Currently, the Public Service Commission only requires it to pay wholesale rates or what the utility would have to pay for the same amount of energy from its other suppliers. …