By Maria Saporta
Georgia has made a giant leap in the area of solar energy in just the last couple of years — progress that could rank Georgia as high as 4th among the 50 states within three years in terms of how much solar contributes to its overall energy portfolio.
“There is more solar out there in Georgia than many people think,” said John Sibley, a senior policy advisor for Southface who moderated the Sustainable Atlanta Roundtable program on solar energy on Friday morning. “We would be right behind New Jersey, and Georgia would be No. 4, if it were all on line today.”
Southface has documented how much solar activity is underway in the state through the new website: GeorgiaEnergyData.org. Sibley said that the state has about three times more solar energy than what is included in national databases.
“The story of the next three years is really the leadership at the Georgia Power Co.,” Sibley said. “Solar should increase by 10 times (current levels), and that doesn’t include the EMCs.”
The program — “It CAN happen Here: Solar Power Takes Off in Georgia” — had a different tone than has existed in the past when environmentalists felt that Georgia Power was not committed to developing and supporting solar energy in the state.
Georgia Power historically has resisted the state establishing an energy portfolio that would mandate a percentage of power generated come from alternative and renewable sources. It also has been a bit slow to come to the solar energy party, arguing that the industry needed to become more financially competitive.
“Solar is coming down dramatically in price,” explained Ervan Hancock III, manager of renewable and green strategies for Georgia Power. He went on to say that Georgia Power has had a green energy program for years, but solar and renewables were offered to customers at a premium. “We have continued to monitor new technology.”
As a result, the price for solar energy is now much more competitive than it was just seven years ago.
“We will have 271 megawatts of solar by 2014 under contract if all this comes on line,” Hancock said. “We would be right behind New Jersey., but Georgia would be No. 4. This is a big step forward.”
Currently, the state generates nearly 22 megawatts of solar power a year, with 11 of those coming from Georgia Power. Hancock said the plan is to add about 45 megawatts of solar each year.
Georgia would move to 4th only if all of Georgia Power’s proposed capacity is compared to other states’ current capacity. But other states are likely to move ahead at the same time, which likely would keep Georgia further back in the pack.
As much progress that has been made, the Georgia Solar Energy Association believes more can be done.
Jessica Moore, the relatively new executive director of the Georgia Solar Energy Association, said the state still lags behind others by not permitting “third party” leasing of solar energy systems. By not allowing third party companies to come in and install solar systems and lease them to users, the upfront cost of retrofitting or building in solar can be prohibitive. Giving people the opportunity to lease solar systems can spread out that cost over decades.
Moore also said that while the state has made great strides in solar energy in the past several years, her association is much more ambitious of the amount of solar that can be generated.
“We have set a goal of 1,000 megawatts,” she said, adding that Georgia can lead the way for the Southeast.
Hancock said Georgia is well on its way. It has the largest amount of solar energy produced of any state that does not have a mandated energy portfolio. He said Georgia Power already has received inquiries from its sister utilities that are also part of the Southern Co. system —Alabama Power, Mississippi Power and Gulf Power.