The Atlanta Business Chronicle reported Monday that Georgia State Senator, Buddy Carter, withdrew his proposal for a bill that would have bolstered the use of solar energy in this state because he believed it did not have enough votes to pass.  This is sad news to the solar industry in Georgia and to really anyone that is not Georgia Power or an existing utility company in this state.

Senate Bill 401 was introduced in February to encourage private investment in renewable solar energy by allowing individuals and companies to finance solar installations on their property through private power purchase agreements (PPAs).  PPAs work like this:  a solar company owns and installs the solar panels that are placed on the customer’s property (usually rooftop installations).  The customer either leases the solar equipment from the solar company for a monthly fee, or enters into a PPA to make regular payments to the installer based upon the amount of energy that will be generated.

PPAs are the most common form of financing for these projects because they typically involve significant up-front capital costs.  Many other states, particularly those with Renewable Energy Portfolios, allow the use of PPAs for solar and other renewable energy projects.

The reason they are not currently allowed in Georgia is because a Georgia law, known as the “Georgia Territorial Electric Service Act,” limits the sale of power to regulated utilities like Georgia Power and local EMCs.   Under the current state of the law, anyone can purchase and install their own solar panels to produce electricity for themselves.  But, they can’t rent the panels from a third party, buy the power generated from the panels from a third party, or sell the excess energy created from their panels to a third party.

It’s hard to believe that anyone would oppose to a bill that would encourage investment in renewable energy and foster a burgeoning industry that is bringing good jobs to this state.   It just makes sense to use one of the state’s most abundant resources—sunshine—to reduce demand from coal and gas-based energy plants and create jobs at the same time.  But, as predicted, Georgia Power has put up a vigorous fight and is lobbying hard to defeat this bill at all costs.  Georgia Power and existing utilities are heavily invested in coal and gas-based energy plants, and they do not want to see a reduction in demand and revenue due to these PPAs.

The fact that Senator Carter has pulled the bill for lack of votes means that Georgia Power is currently a louder voice in the legislative ears than the solar industry and advocates for green energy.  In order for this bill to have any real chance of becoming law in 2012, it must pass the senate by Wednesday in order to be sent to the House for consideration.

If you support renewable energy and solar-friendly legislation, then you should contact your representatives right away to urge them to vote for the passage of SB 401.  Otherwise, the expansion of solar energy in Georgia will be delayed for at least another year.  That’s a lot of sun that we will have missed out on!

Most people would never associate NASCAR with renewable energy.  I think it’s a long way off before solar or biofuel technology is advanced enough to power engines that will allow cars to travel at speeds of nearly 200 miles per hour for hundreds of miles.  I will admit that I have never been a big fan of NASCAR or any other racing sports programs, but when I race across this Chicago Tribune article about a 3-megawatt solar installation at the Pocono Raceway, I had to post it and comment.  I thought it was particularly relevant in light of my last post about the latest developments in solar energy programs in Georgia.

I am a little impressed that an industry that is wholly based upon consuming large quantities of fossil fuels is at least trying to minimize its impact on the environment by embracing alternative energy sources for its stadiums.  It’s this kind of innovation that promotes renewable energy projects and increases public awareness of the benefits and effectiveness of solar projects.

As a quick tie-back to my last post, this project underscores the argument for lifting restrictions or caps on the amount of solar energy that is sold back to the grid and/or for allowing power purchase agreements (PPAs):

The solar field will yield enough power to cover all the racing complex’s energy needs — the garages, concession stands, offices, spectator suites and media rooms — with enough left over to feed 1,000 homes.

The track hosts two annual NASCAR Sprint Cup Series summer events, each of which attracts more than 100,000 fans. It also is used by car clubs, driving schools and auto dealerships. During winter, when Pocono is essentially shut down, nearly all the power coming from its solar array will go into the grid for use elsewhere.

Keep in mind that this one project generates 3 megawatts of solar power, which is more than the current cap on the amount of solar power Georgia Power purchases from all private solar installations in the state (2.5 megawatts).

Another key point I picked up from the article was the fact that with the 30% tax credit and state alternative-energy incentives, the project will pay for itself in 6 to 8 years.  That’s the kind of return on investment that really makes these projects worthwhile and cost-effective.

Since the South arguably (and I say arguably, not definitely) has more sun and more NASCAR fans than Pennsylvania, let’s see if we can get some of our southern NASCAR fans and stadiums to embrace this same enthusiasm for solar energy.