Tea Partiers fight over solar power in Georgia, and the solar fans win
In Georgia on Thursday, the Tea Party scored a victory against the Tea Party by helping push through a plan requiring the state’s largest electric utility to increase its capacity for solar power.
Never a dull day in Southern politics, is there? A proposal by Public Service Commissioner Lauren “Bubba” McDonald to more than double the amount of solar energy produced by Georgia Power pitted the Tea Party Patriots against the local chapter of Koch-funded group Americans for Prosperity (of the notorious “No Climate Tax Pledge”). Virginia Galloway, director of AFP for the state, warned the group’s 50,000 Georgia members that the proposal could increase electricity rates by up to 40 percent, and that this “mandate” — as she called it — would “reduce the reliability of every appliance and electronics gadget in your home.” But the Patriots see an increase in the availability of solar as an expansion of the free market and the ratepayers’ right to choose their energy sources.
Those on the left might have a hard time distinguishing between brands of Tea Party, but there are real differences. From the Athens Banner-Herald:
Disagreement between the two groups isn’t unusual. [Debbie Dooley, national coordinator of the Patriots,] says Galloway is using outdated figures since solar-panel prices have dropped by more than half in the last three years. She also accuses Galloway of being swayed by the fossil-fuel interests that contribute to AFP nationally.
And, to hear Dooley tell it, AFP’s opposition to solar may not reflect the will of the people (or at least the people comprising its target audience).
Dooley tells Climate Progress that despite AFP’s misinformation campaign, which “was based on misleading data and was not accurate,” most of the Tea Party activists she works with support the proposed solar plan because they see it as a “way to help protect the environment, give consumers choice and in the long-term help lower their rates.”
Help protect the environment? Tea Party, are you feeling OK?
The Patriots advocate an all-of-the-above energy strategy, saying in an email to supporters that they “just don’t believe it is responsible to be completely reliant on one or two energy sources to generate needed electricity.” Bubba, for his part, sees the writing on the wall when it comes to the traditional forms of energy on which Georgia Power has long relied. The Associated Press:
McDonald called for expanding the renewable energy source as a hedge against environmental rules that might force coal plants offline or future increases in the price of natural gas. …
“We don’t know what tomorrow is going to be with coal. We don’t know what tomorrow is going to be with natural gas,” McDonald said after the vote. “But we know the sun will be shining.”
The Atlanta Business Chronicle has the deets on the new plan:
Commissioners voted 4-1 in favor of a broader long-term electrical generation plan that requires Atlanta-based Georgia Power Co. to increase its solar power capacity by 525 megawatts by the end of 2016.
Of that amount, 425 megawatts would come from large “utility-scale” solar projects and 100 would come from projects small enough to be installed by individual residential or commercial property owners.
Georgia Power already is working to develop 260 megawatts of solar energy through two projects previously approved by the PSC.
But supporters of a motion by Commissioner Lauren “Bubba” McDonald to up the ante argued that recent technological advancements have brought down the costs of solar power enough to justify additional investment.
“We’ve got to approach this in a businesslike fashion and try to stay ahead of the curve,” McDonald said after the vote.
Solar will still make up just a small fraction of the utility’s overall energy mix. Solar providers will engage in a competitive bidding process, with oversight from the Public Service Commission, to ensure that rates don’t go up.
No Republican wants to get on the Tea Party’s bad side. Maybe if solar boosters joined forces with grassroots Tea Party groups across the nation, we could give AFP a run for its money. (Well, probably not literally.)
Claire Thompson is an editorial assistant at Grist.
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