Imagine if a new offensive play became popular and the NFL decided to mandate that every coach run it exactly 6 times per game.

But, trying not to be too ham-handed, the mandate would only stand if it could be ensured the teams would remain competitive.

Such a move would likely be greeted with laughter, and bemusement at why it’s even necessary in the first place.

In a constantly changing environment, coaches choose plays based on what’s most likely to achieve victory for their fans and their franchise.

This rule of thumb can also be applied to energy policy. Rather than a Super Bowl ring however, the ultimate prize for energy consumers is reliability and affordability.

This is why the current debate over solar power in Georgia is important for consumers throughout the entire Southeast, which historically has had the most reliable and affordable power in the country.

In a move that created quite a stir, Georgia’s Public Service Commission (PSC) voted last week to require the state’s largest power provider to add a specific amount of electricity (525 megawatts) generated from a specific source – in this case solar.

However, an exception was added, which says the requirement would only stand if such an increase in solar power puts no upward pressure on electricity rates.

Explaining the thinking behind this move by the PSC, Commissioner Lauren “Bubba” McDonald said after the vote:

“We don’t know what tomorrow is going to be with coal. We don’t know what tomorrow is going to be with natural gas. But we know the sun will be shining.”

On the other hand, the mandate drew a strong rebuke from Georgia PSC Commissioner Stan Wise, who in a blistering critique of last week’s 4-1 PSC vote, admonished his colleagues, saying:

“If you ask Georgia Power today whether this [mandate] will put upward pressure on rates, they will offer a telling response… ‘We don’t know.’ And yet, you are still going to move this forward and put the ratepayer at risk.”

Other critics of the mandate have pointed to the experience of North Carolina, which in 2007 became the first Southeastern state to adopt a full Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS).  The cost of compliance with the RPS has led North Carolina utilities, according to economists at the Beacon Hill Institute, to request double-digit increases on residential rates. If the current mandate is allowed to proceed, they believe that by 2021 North Carolina would face 3,600 lost jobs, $43 million in lost investment, $57 million in lost real disposable income, and $43 million in lost state and local revenues.

It is not surprising that some NC legislators have aggressively attempted to repeal the mandate, making the case that choosing sources of electricity generation should be done on a least-cost basis, as opposed to being selected by government policy.

Since we don’t know how this new Georgia mandate will affect electricity generation, it becomes a real test for the solar community.

Will forcing the state’s largest power provider to use more solar be a win for Georgia consumers, or will solar be benched in favor of more traditional, more affordable sources of electricity?

Consumers in Georgia, and the broader Southeast, should be watching closely.