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Georgias future plans may include solar energy
Lanier Technical College’s Sam Ajlani, right, discusses the school’s solar panel Monday afternoon during a tour of the facility. The tour followed a program and open discussion about the solar industry in 21st-century Georgia.

Solar energy is going to play an increasingly important role in the next 20 years, Georgia Public Service commissioners said Monday during a panel discussion of the state’s solar industry.

The commission is wrapping up hearings on Georgia Power Co.’s 2013 integrated resource plan, which is a long-range plan for the utility that forecasts electric power needs for the next three years.

The commission, a state agency that regulates utilities, is expected to issue a decision on the plan July 11.

Georgia Power’s plan doesn’t include any new capacity including solar, coal and nuclear. The utility company does plan to convert some coal plants to natural gas. The only additional solar comes from a 2012 initiative for Georgia Power to buy 210 megawatts of solar capacity for about 20,000 customers.

“If nothing happens, if there’s no change that can be brought about in the integrated resource plan — adding the additional solar — the only solar you are going to see for the next 20 years, unless there’s another change made in three years when we review the plan again, will be solar put on facilities and consumed onsite,” Commissioner Tim Echols said.

Echols and Commissioners Chuck Eaton and Bubba McDonald Jr. joined Rep. Rusty Kidd, I-Milledgeville, along with members of the solar industry and Lanier Technical College educators at the school’s Oakwood campus. Many people in the audience work in the solar industry or are interested in using solar to reduce energy consumption and save money.

Attendees were also treated to a tour of the college’s solar and thermal energy installations on various buildings around campus by Sam Ajlani, the college’s solar technology lead instructor. The technical college also offers a solar technology program and workforce training.

“You see we are producing even though it was kind of a partly cloudy day, we’re producing sunlight,” Ajlani said, referring to a solar array.

The discussion had a town hall feel, with many questions and comments from the audience. Many people emphasized the significant drop in the cost of solar technology, but criticized commissioners for not taking advantage of the alternative energy sooner. Eaton said the benefit of Georgia’s conservative energy strategy is it can take advantage of current lower capital costs and improved technology.

“Obviously, solar is getting a hard look at the commission these days,” Eaton said. “There’s some huge benefits to it that I see.”

Mark Bell, head of Empower Energy Technology, a solar installation company, said what’s made solar successful in other states is a combination of legislative policy and programs and procedures that allow stability and consistency in the market.

“I think the commission has done a great job in the last few years educating itself on solar,” Bell said.

Kidd has sponsored a bill that would create a statewide rural community solar initiative to encourage solar generation facilities and ensure all electric customers can opt into the service. The Georgia General Assembly can consider the bill during its next term in January.

Commissioners may vote to change the utility plan, Eaton said.

The commission has taken testimony and comments from a variety of groups and companies. A final round of hearings by the commission is scheduled for today and, if necessary, Wednesday, he said.

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