Following are excerpts from articles gleaned from the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), Renewable Energy World (REW), the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
Solar is widely regarded as the cleanest and most abundant renewable energy source available, and the U.S. has some of the richest solar resources in the world (SEIA). The cost of solar energy has fallen sharply over the last 20 years, and experts predict the cost will drop below  that of retail electricity between 2013 and 2018 in many parts of the country (NRDC).
Kurt Eberbach, attorney with the SELC writes that two years ago, Georgia Power Company, owned by the Southern Company and the state’s largest utility, proposed adding 210 megawatts of solar to its energy supply. The Georgia Public Service Commission ordered the company to more than triple that amount to 525 MW, enough to supply power to 50,000 homes. Ga. Power is scheduled to add almost one gigawatt of solar energy to its system by 2016, and says that the state is considered a national leader in solar generation. According to the company, this will ultimately save the state’s ratepayers several hundred million dollars, and millions in tax revenue will accrue to rural counties across the state where solar farms will be constructed.
In late 2013 the company proposed to levy a tariff of $22 per month on consumers using solar equipment to reduce consumption costs at homes, businesses, and farms. At public hearings before the Public Service Commission, consumers registered their strong objections, and the company withdrew its proposal to levy the punitive tax.
How does Alabama compare with its sister state regarding present and future solar generation and the benefits that accrue to consumers? Despite the similarity of the two states’ meteorological and political climates, they are worlds apart in their attitudes toward use of solar power. While Georgia’s policy makers realize the benefits of promoting solar generation, Alabama has erected barriers against it. Appearing to take their marching orders from Alabama Power Co. and the coal companies (my opinion), our state’s public service commissioners recently adopted a monthly charge of $5.00 per kilowatt used by residences, small businesses, and schools within Ala. Power Company’s service areas that rely partially on solar to reduce their electric bills. SELC contends that the effect and doubtless the purpose of the tariff is to virtually destroy any incentive to make the investments required to install solar equipment. The tariff was instituted without public input as to the wisdom and justification for the action.
Writer Eberbach states, “As a result of the Commission’s policies, Alabama ranks next to last among states in solar jobs per capita, while Georgia has six more solar jobs per capita than our state and is poised to be among the top five in the country in this regard.” Concluding, he writes, “As solar costs continue to fall, Alabama should follow Georgia’s lead. Alabama Power and its regulators at the PSC should seize the opportunity to lower costs for consumers and bring needed revenue and jobs to economically struggling areas of the state. Moreover, the commissioners should remove the punitive tax on citizens who use solar power to reduce their energy bills. Let 2015 be the year when Alabama embraces its abundant solar potential and the economic growth that comes with it.”
Bob Mount is a Professor Emeritus with the Department of Zoology and Entomology at Auburn University. He is also chairman of the Opelika Order of Geezers, well-known local think tank and political clearing house. He writes about birds, snakes, turtles, bugs and assorted conservation topics.