Solar energy already works in Georgia, but it can do so much more for our state’s economy

By Guest Columnist DOUG BEEBE, board chairman of the Georgia Solar Energy Association

On Saturday, Oct. 1, Georgians all over the state will have an opportunity to experience and learn more about how solar energy, America’s fastest-growing industry, is bringing jobs, investment and advanced technology to our state.

During the annual Georgia Solar Tour, commercial, agricultural and residential solar installations in every part of the state will open to the public for display with docents on site to explain the technology and describe its benefits. This event is part of the National Solar Tour, which this year will open some 5,500 installations in 3,200 communities nationwide.

2011 has been a landmark year for solar energy in Georgia, as policy makers, business executives and homeowners have begun to understand and embrace solar energy as the vital technology that it is.

In May, Gov. Nathan Deal signed legislation expanding to $5 million annual state tax credits for solar installations in Fiscal 2012, 2013 and 2014. These credits, coordinated through the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority, have been so popular that the entire 2011 pool of the previous limit of $2.5 million was quickly exhausted and the remaining portion of the 2012 allocation is currently about $300,000.

Doug Beebe

Doug Beebe

Combined with the increasing efficiency and falling cost of solar equipment – which has come down more than 30 percent in the past year – the tax credits are helping to unleash the Georgia market’s enthusiasm for clean, safe, renewable energy. Media reports of major installations and Georgia’s positioning for utility-scale solar developments have cropped up regularly in recent months.

In July, Public Service Commissioner Lauren “Bubba” McDonald led the energy community in a discussion of how to increase the solar energy portfolio of Georgia utilities. That dialogue prompted a commitment from Georgia Power to buy up to 50 MW of solar energy by 2015.

More than 200 people joined Public Service Commissioner Tim Echols for his Solar Express ride through South Georgia on July 29.

And just last month, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed drove a Chevy Volt up to the ribbon-cutting for the first solar-powered electric vehicle recharging station in the city at Atlantic Station. He declared his intention to make that only the first of many such stations in Atlanta as it evolves into one of America’s most sustainable cities.

This has been a great year for the Georgia Solar Energy Association, too. Our membership has swelled to almost 300 corporate and individual members. This number includes manufacturers, installers, integrators, consultants and advocates who want to see Georgia benefit from an industry that contributed more than $5 billion in economic activity to the U.S. gross domestic product since 2008 and now employs more than 93,000 workers nationwide.

Our annual Southern Solar Summit in Atlanta this summer sold out, filling the auditorium at the Georgia Tech Research Institute Conference Center with Georgians eager to learn what innovations are making solar power more accessible in Georgia and beyond. Another annual Solar Summit in Savannah last month doubled its attendance this year, proving that interest in solar has spread beyond metro Atlanta.

The 2011 Georgia Solar Tour will feature sites statewide. We hope that some of the participants in this year’s tour will become hosts in next year’s.

But, sadly, Georgia’s portion of the fast-growing solar market is tiny – less than 1 percent – because Georgia’s leadership has not yet embraced many of the policy initiatives that spurred solar investment to flourish in places like New Jersey and North Carolina. Yet, a University of Arizona study shows that Georgia ranks third in the nation for solar energy potential.

Georgia remains one of only three states with specific legal barriers to private, third-party Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs). Almost half the states, 21, have legal PPA frameworks, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. In many other states, PPAs have helped make solar energy more affordable and have paved the way to creative strategies that make solar energy more widely available at every level of the economic spectrum.

And our state also has no official goal for renewable energy as a proportion of its total consumption. The U.S. Department of Energy reports that 29 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico have established renewable portfolio goals.

Finally, some homeowners’ associations, unaware of the value-enhancing contribution of solar installations to neighborhood property, resist residents’ efforts to deploy solar within reasonable aesthetic guidelines.

GSEA is working with state government and business leaders to overcome these barriers and establish productive policies that will encourage Georgians to join this important economic trend. In the months ahead, we plan to demonstrate the substantive contribution that Georgia’s solar industry is making to the state’s economic vitality by creating skilled jobs, producing energy savings for homeowners and businesses, and expanding our domestic energy portfolio.

This effort begins on Saturday, Oct. 1, with our solar tour. Visit www.gasolar.org for more details.

About David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with nearly 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.
This entry was posted in Guest Columns. Bookmark the permalink.
11 comments
Burroughston Broch
Burroughston Broch

@Julie B

I have done the math many times, and it always produces the same answer.

I am all for solar power when it becomes cost effective.

I am all against using taxpayer or ratepayer subsidies to make solar power appear more cost effective than it is. These taxpayers and ratepayers never have a vote on whether to provide these subsidies or not.

As far as the cost of solar power, are you including the $528million in Federal stimulus guarantees that we taxpayers must now pay because Solyndra filed for bankruptcy? They aren't the first solar provider to go belly up, and they won't be the last. You do the math.

Burroughston Broch
Burroughston Broch

@Julie B I have done the math many times, and it always produces the same answer. I am all for solar power when it becomes cost effective. I am all against using taxpayer or ratepayer subsidies to make solar power appear more cost effective than it is. These taxpayers and ratepayers never have a vote on whether to provide these subsidies or not. As far as the cost of solar power, are you including the $528million in Federal stimulus guarantees that we taxpayers must now pay because Solyndra filed for bankruptcy? They aren't the first solar provider to go belly up, and they won't be the last. You do the math.

Julie B
Julie B

Consider this: the cost of solar power is falling while the cost of conventional energy sources is rising. You do the math.

Julie B
Julie B

Consider this: the cost of solar power is falling while the cost of conventional energy sources is rising. You do the math.

Burroughston Broch
Burroughston Broch

I received a query from Mason Hicks that is not yet posted; he wrote:

"Burroughston, is this a FREE MARKET issue? Because having Georgia Power pay gobs of $$$ of our utility bills to high power lawyers and lobbyist to hold their turf and to keep initiatives such as solar utility lease agreements and Solar Power Purchase Agreements, PCCAs out of Georgia and any other such options which would give more affordable options safely clear of Georgia has nothing to do which the free market...

Georgia Power has ZERO to do with the free market..."

As far as I'm concerned, it's not a free market issue. And I have no love of Georgia Power and their business practices. It is a matter of not being forced by the government to subsidize a technology that is not yet cost-effective where I live. If you want a poster child for this practice, here's one about which I have first hand knowledge. A Fortune 500 company in NJ installed photovoltaic panels and has loudly trumpeted that they are paying off in 10 years. They are - under the following reasoning. 80% of the installed cost was paid by government grants (read as paid by the taxpayers who have no say in the matter) and the electric utility is forced to buy all of the generated power at $0.38/kWH (three times what the facility pays for purchased electricity).

Burroughston Broch
Burroughston Broch

I received a query from Mason Hicks that is not yet posted; he wrote: "Burroughston, is this a FREE MARKET issue? Because having Georgia Power pay gobs of $$$ of our utility bills to high power lawyers and lobbyist to hold their turf and to keep initiatives such as solar utility lease agreements and Solar Power Purchase Agreements, PCCAs out of Georgia and any other such options which would give more affordable options safely clear of Georgia has nothing to do which the free market... Georgia Power has ZERO to do with the free market..." As far as I'm concerned, it's not a free market issue. And I have no love of Georgia Power and their business practices. It is a matter of not being forced by the government to subsidize a technology that is not yet cost-effective where I live. If you want a poster child for this practice, here's one about which I have first hand knowledge. A Fortune 500 company in NJ installed photovoltaic panels and has loudly trumpeted that they are paying off in 10 years. They are - under the following reasoning. 80% of the installed cost was paid by government grants (read as paid by the taxpayers who have no say in the matter) and the electric utility is forced to buy all of the generated power at $0.38/kWH (three times what the facility pays for purchased electricity).

Mason Hicks
Mason Hicks

Burroughston, is this a FREE MARKET issue? Because having Georgia Power pay gobs of $$$ of our utility bills to high power lawyers and lobbyist to hold their turf and to keep initiatives such as solar utility lease agreements and Solar Power Purchase Agreements, PCCAs out of Georgia and any other such options which would give more affordable options safely clear of Georgia has nothing to do which the free market... Georgia Power has ZERO to do with the free market...

Burroughston Broch
Burroughston Broch

Let me translate the euphemisms for you.

"Georgia’s leadership has not yet embraced many of the policy initiatives" means "Georgia has not gone whole hog like NC and NJ on providing publically-funded subsidies that we need to sell our products."

Solar will produce a reasonable return on investment when the cost of electricity reaches $0.15/kWH. No one in GA pays that sort of a rate now.

Burroughston Broch
Burroughston Broch

Let me translate the euphemisms for you. "Georgia’s leadership has not yet embraced many of the policy initiatives" means "Georgia has not gone whole hog like NC and NJ on providing publically-funded subsidies that we need to sell our products." Solar will produce a reasonable return on investment when the cost of electricity reaches $0.15/kWH. No one in GA pays that sort of a rate now.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Guest Column written by Doug Beebe (chairman of the Georgia Solar Energy Association) for the Saporta Report […]

  2. […] Guest Column written by Doug Beebe (chairman of the Georgia Solar Energy Association) for the Saporta Report […]