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The Interesting History Surrounding Solar Advocacy and Law

Presenter Stephen O'Day offered insights from his extensive background in solar advocacy on the current state of solar energy and government policy.
By Allie Miller

By Allie Miller

Just 40 years ago, large parts of Georgia did not have access to reliable electricity. This changed with the passing of the Territorial Electric Service Act of 1973. With this law, cities and utilities were given permission to create energy monopolies in order to incentivize the electrification of rural Georgia. Fast forward to today, and this has resulted in the creation of almost 100 energy utilities across Georgia that include investor-owned Georgia Power Company (GPC), Savannah Electric and Power Company, 41 electric membership corporations (EMCs), and 53 municipally-owned electric systems in the state.

This brief history was provided in a talk entitled “Solar Advocacy in Georgia” by Mr. Stephen O’Day of the law firm Smith, Gambrell and Russell LLP on April 3rd, 2017 as part of the Ray C. Anderson Center’s Carbon-Conscious Business Series in collaboration with the Energy Club of Georgia Tech.  A former Georgia Tech student in Civil Engineering, Mr. O’Day earned his J.D. from Harvard Law School and has focused much of his professional activities on environmental protection and sustainability.

After providing a regulatory overview, Mr. O’Day transitioned his remarks to solar’s increasing cost competiveness, environmental benefits, and growth as an energy source and as an employer in Georgia.  As a result of these trends, traditional utilities are making significant investments in “utility-scale” solar while also facing public debate about the respective roles of utilities, solar developers, households, and businesses particularly in the “distributed” solar market.  In Georgia, we have seen various legislative proposals on which distributed solar advocates and utilities have differing perspectives on a range of economic, environmental, and political issues.

Notwithstanding these challenges, Mr. O’Day has helped to forge compromises.  For example, he helped pave the way for the adoption of the Georgia Solar Free Market Financing Act 2015, which positioned Georgia as “the first state in the Southeastern U.S. to legislatively approve private sales of electricity from onsite solar systems as a means of financing solar energy for Georgia businesses, institutions, schools and homes.”[1]

Despite the success of the 2015 Act, barriers to solar adoption still exist.  These range from the costs of connecting a home to the grid, metering energy usage, pricing excess energy in rooftop sales back to the grid, and philosophical disagreements related to the efficiency of deploying utility-scale versus distributed rooftop solar.  In order to find common ground, Mr. O’Day suggests we take each on a case by case basis and work across the range of interests and stakeholders at play. By coming together with an interdisciplinary and collaborative approach, we will be more likely to see greater solar uptake across Georgia by utilities, homes, and businesses.

Allie Miller recently graduated with her Masters of Industrial Design from School of Industrial Design at Georgia Tech.


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