The following is a letter originally drafted to by Robert Fowler of Locust Grove, Georgia to his state legislators. With his permission, SACE is sharing his story about recent changes by his utility company, Central Georgia EMC, to penalize solar owners.Guest Blog | March 22, 2017
Our family became interested in going solar in spring of 2015 to save money and help the environment. We did extensive research, including multiple discussions with our power provider, Central Georgia EMC , and a several solar installers, and finally made the investment once it was clear that it was a prudent thing to do. Fast forward two years, and Central Georgia EMC (CGEMC) has violated our original agreement and enacted unjustified fees against solar households like ours. The EMC cannot give a good explanation as to why they are cheating solar customers. We are waiting for a proper explanation, and as is to be expected from any business, some basic customer service. Here is our story.
The decision to go solar stuck us as a no-brainer when we did extensive research and found that our credit union would offer us a loan to pay for the solar system; that the loan payments would be almost the same as monthly savings on our electricity bill, thus essentially breaking even on our monthly expenses; and that we would have the loan paid off in approximately seven years, saving lots of money every month thereafter as we generate our own power. Being at the age of 63 at the time of this decision, we felt having this all equal out at about 70 years of age would be a nice enhancement to our financial security as we plan on retiring at about that time.
Furthermore, Central Georgia EMC staff were very supportive of our decision to go solar. We were told that at the times our system was producing more power than our house was using, we would be credited for that excess at retail rate, i.e. at the same rate that we were charged for consumption. They would place a “net meter” in place of the standard meter so that all of the usage and excess would be tracked and we would have a $5 monthly charge added to our bill for the net meter to cover that cost. We received an agreement from the EMC that stated all of this. In addition, the EMC gave us a rebate of approximately $3,600 to incentivize going solar.
Between 2015 and winter 2016, our investment plan was on track, but that changed in December 2016.
Our December 2016 electric bill brought with it a shock, as we found CGEMC had added large unexpected costs with no prior notification. A letter came a few days later stating, “As we have gained experience with customer owned PV generation, it has become apparent that CGEMC is not recovering the cost to serve customers who have installed PV facilities.” Their response was to tack a monthly fee of $7 per installed kilowatt to each solar customer’s bill ($57.33 for us) and at the same time, slash in half the credit they give us for the kilowatt-hours we send back to the grid. The agreement we signed did not include these charges but rather the fees and conditions mentioned prior.
Our bill for December would have been approximately $92, but due to the new so called tariff, was $170.21. We generated more electricity with our system than was used in February, much in part because we live modestly, but instead of being charged for the basic fee of $22, regardless of usage, our bill was $84.83.
After a number of emails back and forth with CGEMC senior staff, they have not been able to provide justification for just how our system is costing anyone. I even asked for specifics since no equipment has been installed other than the net meter that we are paying for, and we are still attached to the grid through the same service lines we have had for the past 27 years.
Their only explanation is that we now use less of CGEMC’s electricity and they have fixed costs to pay for. Does this mean that if my neighbor converted his electric heating system, his electric water heater and his electric range to all operate on natural gas, he would be charged a tariff for being a lesser user of electric power. I don’t think so.
This story is not a cautionary tale about solar power, but rather to call out Central Georgia EMC for cheating solar customers like me. They have failed to provide evidence for their claims, and have gone against their word. CGEMC members deserve far better from their staff and board.