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.
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.