Georgia: Strapped for Renewables — or a Solar Goldmine?

Depending on who you ask, the state of Georgia either has an abundance of untapped solar energy — or a dearth of clean energy resources. That means proposed renewable energy standards could hand the state an economic boom or bust. As renewable portfolio standards, cap-and-trade legislation and transmission siting rules make the rounds on Capitol Hill in the coming months, we’re likely to hear similar debates among clean energy producers and advocates, state regulators, and Washington policymakers. The big question here is whether the national interest in creating a clean energy economy should trump states’ authority and short-term economic interest in preserving the energy status quo.

This week’s battle centers on Georgia’s renewable resources and the consequences of pending clean energy legislation involves a clean energy trade group and state regulator. The Solar Energy Industries Association, or SEIA, says Southeastern states — and Georgia in particular — have “vast potential for solar energy development,” while Georgia Public Service Commissioner Stan Wise argues that the state lacks the wind, solar and biomass resources to meet proposed portfolio standards without taking a serious economic hit. If approved, the rule now moving through the House would require utilities to get 6 percent of their energy from renewables by 2012 and 25 percent by 2025.

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As the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports, Wise told members of a House energy subcommittee today that Georgia will have to spend billions of dollars to import clean energy from other states or buy credits to meet the portfolio standard.

The Journal-Constitution quotes Wise saying, “Ultimately it’s going to be a substantial wealth transfer from Southern states…and ultimately cost us jobs, growth and industry — and be a significant cost to the ratepayer,” potentially upping electricity rates by as much as 25 percent. He didn’t mention that the state spent $1.6 billion importing coal in 2005.

SEIA president and CEO Rhone Resch sees things differently. He issued a release today saying that while Georgia doesn’t have quite as much solar potential as the Southwest, the Southeastern states of Georgia and the Carolinas have 60 percent more solar resources than Germany, the world’s largest solar market.

‚ÄúThose who claim the U.S. does not have enough sun to power our nation are simply wrong. In Georgia, 23.6 percent of electricity could come from rooftop solar alone,” he said, citing data from the Energy Information Administration, the Department of Energy and the firm Navigant Consulting. More than that, said Resch, the region has a burgeoning solar manufacturing and installation industry that stands to benefit from the proposed standards.

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