Barriers to Solar Adoption Stifle Economic Development

   Last year, GA Solar joined with other stakeholders in successful negotiations with Central Georgia EMC to alleviate punitive and discriminatory fees aimed exclusively at solar customers.  Since then, our members and their customers have encountered similar charges in other locations throughout the state.

   Growing numbers of homeowners and businesses are looking for cleaner, and more economical, energy resources. As they do, these practices are increasingly coming into question, even as they quietly discourage local economic development.

   In my own work helping communities organize cost-saving, bulk-buying Solarize programs, I have encountered difficulties in the cities of Covington and Oxford, GA, for example, where some residents would like to organize a Solarize Newton County initiative.

   The City of Oxford operates its own power utility, which charges solar customers an additional $11.15 per kilowatt of installed solar per month on their electric bill. This means a solar customer with a 5 kW solar array would pay an additional $55.75 every month on their power bill before they use a single watt of electricity. This discriminatory charge clearly presents a daunting barrier to any consideration of solar adoption by residents and businesses in Oxford.

   Steep penalties on solar can significantly undercut local efforts to attract significant economic development. Many major U.S. corporations now apply their public commitment to renewable energy as a core value in the location of new facilities.

   A recent local beneficiary of this trend is Walton EMC, whose solar generation assets will power the new $750 million Facebook data center in Social Circle. Facebook is far from alone in its commitment to solar energy for powering its operations. From retail outlets such as Walmart, Target, IKEA, and Macy’s to other economic powerhouses such as Apple, Intel, GM, and Amazon, access to reasonably priced solar is important to facility location decisions.

   Walton County will benefit handsomely from its embrace of solar. On the other hand, Georgia communities that fail to make the connection between solar access and economic development are destined to fall behind in the economic development race.

   Previous research has determined that the basis for charges assessed exclusively on solar customers has no rational foundation. Instead, those charges penalize homeowners and businesses who just want to save money on their power bills and lower their carbon footprint. The charges spring from a business model quickly being transcended by technological innovation. The companies embracing renewable energy understand this and will gravitate toward communities who share and support their understanding.

   Penalizing solar customers also hurts middle-class homeowners and small businesses whose livelihood depends on being able to make smart financial choices in a free and fair energy market. Their prosperity is the lifeblood of Georgia’s economy.

   Over and over through my work in solar, I have seen the spirit of innovation energize and enrich communities around the principles of clean, affordable renewable resources. I have seen these principles build a strong, resilient solar industry in Georgia with amazing speed. In just five years, the Georgia solar industry has created nearly 4,000 jobs, with even greater prospects ahead. Using our own natural resource, the sun, to generate our own electricity together with other fast-moving technologies such as battery storage and grid modernization presents an economic opportunity of a lifetime for Georgia. The sooner we embrace this new reality, the sooner we can start reaping the benefits of a cleaner, more prosperous Georgia.

   For the past two years, it has been my pleasure and privilege to lead the Georgia Solar Energy Association as its chair. I am proud of the work we have done to educate, advocate, and remove barriers to further the adoption of solar. The Georgia Public Service Commission elections later this year, and the IRP and rate case next year will likely determine the role solar will play in Georgia’s economy for years to come. Nothing short of full-throated support for GA Solar is needed to make solar more affordable and accessible for all Georgians. I look forward to continuing to work with GA Solar and our policy stakeholders to make this future a reality.

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