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Letter to the Editor: Solar energy laws long overdue for revision


March 04, 2014
The technological revolution changed the world instantly, but it has taken businesses, corporations and markets years to adapt, many of which are still in transition.

But now we are reaching the point at which some of our laws need to catch up with the times, too. Energy policy is a good place to begin.

In 1973, the state of Georgia passed the Territorial Electric Service Act, which carved up the state and gave different energy companies territories in which they could supply energy.

It passed as Georgia rapidly expanded during the time and companies were putting up power lines all over the place some even cutting the lines of rivals. The government hoped to centralize the power grids, maximize efficiency and set a standard for energy companies that consumers could trust, as these companies were now required by law to provide a certain level of service. It is, for all intents and purposes, a series of government-run monopolies.

Though the bill served its purpose 40 years ago, it is in need of revision to help both the consumer and the environment. State Rep. Mike Dudgeon of Johns Creek hopes his bill can make all the difference.

This isn't the first go-round for a pro-solar bill. Previously, bills failed to pass because companies like Georgia Power argued against third-party contracts since Georgia Power is legally required to provide a certain amount of energy which cannot be as easily guaranteed with solar energy and because they own all the power lines someone would need to execute a third-party energy source. The way the law is worded, any excess energy a consumer produced from their own solar panels could only be sold to the company in their territory.

There was also an attempt to overrule some homeowners' associations, which often have strict rules about solar panels on roofs and prevent residents from providing their own energy.

But Rep. Dudgeon aims to narrow the focus a bit.

He wants to give Georgians the ability to rent solar panels from non-utility companies, rather than pay around $40,000 up front, which is currently the easiest way of providing your own environmentally friendly energy in Georgia.

"If it's for your own use, you should have the right to do whatever you want," said Dudgeon. "If that's your property and you want to do solar, you should be able to finance that however the heck you want."

Twenty-two states already passed similar laws, and in those states, solar energy is more common than states with similar laws to Georgia.

Additionally, the law puts the onus of environmentally friendly change on the companies that already have a guaranteed consumer base, because consumers don't have a choice in the matter and therefore cannot cause a change in the demand.

"Solar technology has gotten to the point where it's almost ready to be mainstream without a lot of subsidies, and we should not be standing in the way of adoption of it especially for legal or technical reasons based on the Territorial Act," said Rep. Dudgeon.

Though the bill creates more competition and benefits the environment, the bill is not likely to pass this year. Rep. Dudgeon said via email the plan was to negotiate the bill and get it ready to pass in early 2015.

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