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McDonald touts state’s investment in solar power

POSTED: March 17, 2014 8:30 p.m.
Photo by Paul Floeckher/

Lauren “Bubba” McDonald

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Georgia Public Service Commissioner Lauren “Bubba” McDonald rode in Savannah’s St. Patrick’s Day parade Monday in 1929 Model A convertible.

Energy use across Georgia and the country has changed a great deal since then, and McDonald knows it will continue to do so as he seeks another six-year term on the PSC.

Alternative energy sources will continue to develop as more viable options to fossil fuels, and McDonald touted that he has “led the way in solar (energy) in Georgia.”

McDonald stopped in Effingham on Friday on his campaign for re-election to the PSC’s 4th District seat, which has held since 2008, as well as from 1998-2002. He is joined on the ballot by fellow Republicans Douglas Kidd and Craig Lutz and Democrat Daniel Blackman.

“Our main objective (on the PSC) is making sure that you, me, all of us as consumers have the most affordable, most reliable, safest and cleanest energy that we can have,” McDonald said.

He pointed to the resolution he made and the Public Service Commission approved three years ago for the Large-Scale Solar Project, Georgia Power’s plan to buy up to 50 megawatts of solar power. That is roughly enough to power 50,000 homes and all the appliances in them.

In addition, the PSC voted last year to add 525 megawatts of solar energy to Georgia Power’s 20-year resources plan, and added 210 megawatts from Georgia Biomass LLC that weren’t being used by developers.

“So now we sit here in Georgia with 790 megawatts of solar power,” McDonald said, “with, No. 1, no upward pressure on the rate payer, and No. 2, no state subsidies. We are probably the largest volunteer solar state in the nation.”

Maintaining a high energy capacity, while keeping rates as low as possible, is crucial as Georgia competes with other states for economic development projects. Last year, the trade publication Site Selection magazine ranked Georgia as having the No.1 business climate in the nation.

“One of the first questions they ask is, ‘How much is my energy going to cost me, and how reliable is it?’” McDonald said. “If you don’t pass muster on those two issues, then that industry will go somewhere else.”

McDonald also described Georgia as being in a “nuclear renaissance,” with Georgia Power’s Plant Vogtle in Burke County planning to build the nation’s first new nuclear power reactors in the last 30 years. The project has encountered some cost overruns and legal wrangling, delaying until 2017 for the first reactor to be online and the second in 2018.

“There might be other things that are involved in a cost overrun that the Public Service Commission may say is imprudent and the rate payers are not going to have to pay it,” McDonald said. “It would have to be paid by the investors.”

That brings McDonald back to the cost-efficiency of solar energy. Unlike the cost that comes with fossil fuels and their increasing demand and dwindling supply, the energy coming into the solar panels is emitted free by the sun.

This is underscored by the decision to close a dozen Georgia Power coal plants because they have become too expensive to comply with today’s environmental guidelines. Meanwhile, McDonald cited a University of Arizona study’s findings that Georgia is among the top five states in the country in receiving electrons from the sun.

“I don’t know whether we’ll even be burning coal six years from now because of the different regulations from Washington, (the Environmental Protection Agency’s) restrictions,” he said.

“Those electrons from the sun will be here six years from now or 60 years from now,” he continued. “And if they’re not there, it doesn’t matter anyway.”

This region could be closely involved as the state explores more alternative energy options. Research is being conducted at Georgia Southern University’s renewable energy and engines laboratory.

“Especially here of late, there have been several discussions (with GSU) about their horizontal wind development there,” McDonald said.

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