The Georgia House could vote as early as this week on a bill that would give the Public Service Commission broad powers to regulate solar panel installers and establish guidelines aimed at weeding out companies that burden customers with overpriced equipment and make false claims about how much solar panels will lower their bills. energy.
The House Committee on Energy, Utilities and Telecommunications last week unanimously approved House Bill 73 after holding several committee meetings on a proposal that state utility regulators determine which companies are allowed to finance and install solar panels, and the ability to revoke licenses and fine companies that violate the rules.
However, there are some criticisms of the bill, including handing over control to the PSC, which some clean energy groups have criticized as not favorable enough for solar development.
Dallas Republican Rep. Joseph Goulet’s bill would allow the five-member commission to issue “certificates of authority” to solar companies until early 2024.
As part of the application process, businesses will be required to disclose financial information, conduct background checks on employees and contractors who will visit homes and businesses, and ensure that information about the businesses is readily available to the public.
Each company must also provide potential buyers with a detailed description of the cost of the panels and the labor to install the equipment, the expected life of the panel, the terms of the loan agreement and how much the use of solar panels can help reduce the cost of electricity bills.
The PSC and the solar industry will also create a publicly available educational video for potential buyers.
“What we’re not trying to do is shut down solar installations in Georgia,” Goulet said at the committee meeting. “It’s the exact opposite of what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to make sure that the bad actors are taken out of the market and the good actors have a great day and make a lot of money.”
And as the solar industry has grown in recent years, so have the number of complaints from Georgians to the utility regulator about financial companies issuing high-cost loans and solar companies making false promises of zero electricity bills and friendly tax credits. .
In some cases, rooftop solar companies will pay customers’ electricity bills for several years when the homeowner believes they are getting free electricity, before the bills suddenly start popping up again. Goulet referred to a woman in her area, who does not speak English, who was duped into signing a contract to buy the largest roof panels that could fit on her trailer.
Solar industry associations and environmentalists have long supported regulating the industry in Georgia, but there is disagreement over which agency should be in charge.
Last year, organizations such as the Georgia Solar Energy Association, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and the Sierra Club of Georgia criticized the PSC’s approval of Georgia Power’s $1.8 billion rate plan, which it argued was equivalent to attempts at a popular pilot program. which allowed 5,000 homes and businesses in Georgia to install solar panels on their roofs. In that case, Georgia Power was able to reduce payments to those solar panel owners who resell electricity to the grid because the company argued that those customers were not paying their fair share of distribution costs compared to
Mark Woodall, Sierra Club Georgia Conservation Chair. said there is a problem with out-of-state scammers ripping off people, but the attorney general’s consumer protection division should investigate and take action against those who break the law.
He said enforcement should be handled by another organization that best serves the interests of consumers and the solar industry.
“Georgia is one of the worst states in the United States for rooftop solar. It’s because of Georgia Power and PSC,” Woodall said.
Rhys McAllister, the PSC’s executive director, told members of the House Energy Committee earlier this month that the commission feels confident in regulating the new industry, which will include some responsibilities similar to those currently performed by utilities. In addition to Georgia Power and Atlanta Gas Light, the PSC has limited oversight of 41 electric corporations and 52 municipal electric systems.
Commissioners will have 60 days to approve applications under the new solar industry rules.
McAllister said PSC staff will work with the solar industry to develop rules and regulations so lawmakers can review them in time for companies to receive licenses by Jan. 1.
“We don’t want to be an obstacle to people doing their jobs. So people who want to stay in business and be ready by January 1st, we want them available early so we can start the application process, get the background check, get the certifications and be ready to go the first of January.
Rep. Don Parsons, R-Marietta, chairman of the House Energy Committee, said he understands some in the industry aren’t thrilled about the PSC regulating solar companies, but that it’s an agency that has experience working with utilities and with many people are already contacting the checkpoint with their complaints about companies.
“In the chairman’s view, the PSC is the right place for it because it is related to power generation,” he told the committee. “It has to do with the sale of electricity.”
Rep. Robert Dickey, R-Musella, said the application process should be simple so new businesses can enter the market.
“I sympathize with barriers to entry, people should be able to do business,” said a member of the House Energy and Utilities Committee. “At the same time, there are outrageous actions, so it has to be balanced in a way that allows small businesses to grow, start up and protect consumers at the same time.”
For more information on solar energy for your home, check out these resources:
Information on solar energy can be found at Georgia Public Service Commission website. Georgia Power offers a solar advisor tool and fraud information is available at Georgia Solar Energy Commission website.
This story comes to Rough Draft Atlanta thanks to a partnership with Georgia Recorder.