By: Ross Bundschuh
In July, the Georgia Legislature enacted the Solar Power Free-Market Financing Act of 2015.[i] The purpose of the Act is to encourage a more affordable use of solar power in Georgia by allowing residents and businesses to lease solar technology from third party solar panel companies.[ii] The Act ensures that residents and businesses do not have to bear the considerable initial cost of purchasing, installing, or maintaining the solar panels.[iii] The ultimate goal of the Act is to allow consumers the opportunity to enjoy a fixed lease rate regardless of consumption volume, lowering electricity costs, and forcing conventional power suppliers to compete by lowering electricity prices.[iv] While Georgia’s climate and economy render this Act favorable among Georgians, the Kentucky Legislature would have a much harder time passing such an act.
First, Georgia has a solar potential ranging between 430 and 482-watt hours/ft2/day.[v] This amount of energy means that 100,000 square feet of solar panels could provide energy for 1,000 to 1,300 houses per day.[vi] Conversely, Kentucky has a solar potential ranging between 403 and 456-watt hours/ft2/day.[vii] This amount of solar energy is sufficient for approximately 1,000 houses per day with 100,000 square feet of panels.[viii] With the state solar potentials relatively similar, such an act is feasible regarding Kentucky’s climate.
Second, Georgia’s primary sources of electricity are hydroelectric, natural gas, and petroleum.[ix] Georgians paid an average of 13.28 cents per kilowatt-hour in July of 2015.[x] On the other hand, Kentucky’s power plants primarily produce electricity using coal, hydroelectric, and natural gas, and paid an average of 9.96 cents per kilowatt-hour in July of 2015.[xi] Therefore, with Kentucky’s low electricity rates, solar panel leasing companies may not be able to offer prices competitive with those of conventional power suppliers.
Finally, a conversation about Kentucky energy cannot conclude without mentioning coal. Kentucky is among the top coal-producing states in the nation. The industry employs approximately 13,000 people in the state, and generated roughly $4.29 billion in revenue in 2013.[xii] Furthermore, approximately 30% of Kentucky coal powers plants in the Commonwealth.[xiii] Therefore, passing an act similar to that of the Solar Power Free-Market Financing Act would directly threaten Kentucky jobs and one of the Commonwealth’s largest sources of revenue.
Although Georgia’s Solar Power Free-Market Financing Act appears to be popular among State Legislature and Georgians alike, Kentucky’s dependency on coal as a job supplier and a revenue provider will not allow the Commonwealth to draft legislation that could potentially affect the coal industry in any way. Currently, the Kentucky Legislature is proposing legislation to impose a state tax credit on residents utilizing solar systems, but this is a minor step that will not infringe on the coal industry due to the exorbitant purchase, installation, and maintenance prices of solar panels.[xiv] Short of mine depletion or suffocating restrictions by the Environmental Protection Agency, the Commonwealth will continue to advocate for coal and discourage the use of alternative energy sources.
[i] Ga. Code Ann. § 46-3-60 (West 2015).
[ii] Ga. Code Ann. § 46-3-64 (West 2015).
[iv] Ga. Code Ann. § 46-3-65 (West 2015).
[x] Electric Power Monthly, U.S. Energy Info. Admin., http://www.eia.gov/electricity/monthly/epm_table_grapher.cfm?t=epmt_5_6_a (last visited Sept. 29, 2015).
[xii] See Ky. Dep’t. Energy Dev. & Indep., Ky. Coal Facts 32 (14th ed. 2014), availiable at http://energy.ky.gov/Coal%20Facts%20Library/Kentucky%20Coal%20Facts%20-%2014th%20Edition%20(2014).pdf.
[xiii] Id. at 3.
[xiv] See Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 141.436 (West 2015) (proposed legislation).