Georgia’s Residential Market Should Seek Clean Energy Options

Jamie Barber

Although there is interest in utility-scale solar in the Georgia market, residential solar power and residential energy efficiency are lagging, according to Jamie Barber, energy efficiency and renewable energy manager at Georgia Public Service Commission. In this interview, she said that building homeowners’ awareness of their energy options could help build traction for new choices.

CEFF: How would you describe the solar-energy market's current successes and challenges in Georgia?

Barber: The solar-energy market in Georgia is strong and continues to develop. With each solar procurement, the interest in participating in the market and the quantity of solar projects submitted continue to increase. 

Also, the contracted price of the energy has steadily declined, providing significant savings, as well as fuel diversity, to Georgia consumers. Policy decisions made at the commission have aided in the development of a robust solar market.

In Georgia, it is a commission policy that all solar resources be procured at or below the utility’s long-term projected avoided costs. With this action, customers are benefiting with each solar procurement by lowering the utility’s fuel costs. 

The market has been successful in regard to the amount of solar that has been sought after, which has provided multiple opportunities for developers to participate. By the end of 2021, over 2 GW of solar-energy projects will have been procured. 

While there has been significant growth in the utility-scale and/or distributed generation markets, these resources have been procured under “buy-all, sell-all” agreements. The distributed generation markets are mainly utility-scale.

Adoption of solar at the residential and commercial sectors for behind-the-meter use – also known as self-consumption – has not grown as quickly.

Reasons for the low adoption include but are not limited to relatively low utility rates. They also include a solar buyback rate based on the utility’s avoided costs. [These factors] contribute to long payback periods.

Another market challenge is ensuring that customers are being provided an accurate calculation of expected bill savings after the solar is installed at their home or business.

CEFF: What is your perspective on the energy efficiency market's successes and challenges at this time in Georgia?

Barber: The energy efficiency market in Georgia is continuing to develop. 

Residential and commercial energy efficiency programs were first certified in 2010. 

Since that time, these programs have evolved to include new energy efficiency measures and program offerings. However, even with these improvements, the majority of overall energy savings continue to be achieved through the adoption of efficient lighting in the residential and commercial sectors.

Successes in this market include expansion of programs to target small commercial and low-income residential customers that have historically been [relatively] hard-to-reach segments. 

The adoption of higher-efficiency lighting by customers has been made easier [now that] the bulbs are available at multiple locations such as the big-box home-improvement stores. They are also at Dollar Tree and Ace Hardware.

Residential customers are increasingly adopting a “whole home” approach by investing in multiple energy efficiency measures in order to achieve deeper energy savings. [Meanwhile], commercial customers are increasingly installing “custom” measures such as chillers and whole facility retrofits to decrease their overall energy footprints.

While there has been progress in the market, there have also been challenges.

Low customer awareness of available energy efficiency programs is an ongoing challenge. More importantly, many consumers lack the foundational knowledge needed to understand how paying more for efficient lighting or upgrading to a more efficient appliance or HVAC will provide them with long-term benefits. 

Also, the utilities’ avoided costs continue to decline, which poses a challenge [that makes it difficult] for energy efficiency measures – mainly for residential programs – to be able to pass the required commission screening tests.

CEFF: What stakeholder decisions would catalyze forward movement in these two markets in Georgia?

Barber: In order to have successful market development, stakeholder engagement is vital.  As [Georgia is] without a Renewable Portfolio Standard or Energy Efficiency Resource Standard, forward movement of these markets [happens] during proceedings at the commission.  

While both of these markets are still maturing, there have been improvements made as a direct result of stakeholder input. Most stakeholder engagement has occurred during regulatory proceedings.

It is, ultimately, the commission, during the review of the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), that determines the amount of energy efficiency and renewable resources that will be procured in future years.

An example of information sharing and stakeholder engagement occurs at the Demand Side Management Working Group (DSMWG). This group includes the utility and commission staff as well as many stakeholders. Most but not all of them advocate for the continuation of customer-funded energy efficiency programs.

Data and information provided during these quarterly meetings are used to inform the plan filed by the utility for its IRP. A stakeholder’s decision to participate in the DSMWG – and the degree of participation the stakeholder chooses – are important for the continued success of the energy efficiency market in Georgia.

For the solar market, there are many opportunities for stakeholders to assist in moving the market forward. 

While there is not an official stakeholder group for solar issues, stakeholder engagement in regulatory proceedings is vital for the continued success and refinements of policies that impact the market.

In addition, feedback and proposed revisions are sought from stakeholders regarding solar program guidelines, Requests for Proposals, and Power-Purchase Agreement documents. This stakeholder input is invaluable and critical to the success of a robust solar-energy market.

Note: Emma McDonald contributed research to this article.

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