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Friday, December 12, 2014 - 8:55am

VIDEO: Will Solar Power's Surge In Georgia Make It To Homeowners?

Early adopter Creighton Rosental of Macon is what you’d call a solar pioneer. The early adopter said that he had the 4-kilowatt panels installed on the backyard side of his roof about five years ago. Two-thirds of the upfront cost - about $30,000 - was covered by a federal tax credit and a Georgia state credit. 
 
"They built a frame and mounted it to the roof, which was a substantial fairly substantial enterprise." Rosental said.
 
He actually sells the solar power generated back to Georgia Power and then gets a credit on his bill.
 
"We're essentially a mini power plant," he said.
 
Five years ago this collection system was so exotic, Rosental said, that it seemed as though local Georgia Power employees didn't know how to hook-up meters to read both the production of the solar power and the energy his home used. 
 
"A lot of people at Georgia Power didn't know anything about solar," he said
 
But Georgia Power and its parent – the Southern Company – have certainly been paying closer attention to solar power, primarily because of its tumbling price. The drop took everyone by surprise.
 
Just a year ago, Southern Company CEO Tom Fanning told the Energy Information Administration Conference that it will take some time for solar to be price competitive.
 
“For the southeast where we have nine and a half cent power on the average. It will probably be limited in its penetration until the end of the decade, 2018... 2020," he said then.
 
In its filing with the PSC, Georgia Power wrote that these bids show solar can "provide competitive pricing when challenged to do so."
 
Those prices have accelerated solar farm development in Georgia - large arrays across played out farmland in Georgia. The Simon Solar Farm in Social Circle, a 150-acre solar complex, was completed in 2013 and produces about 30 megawatts of energy for Georgia Power. You can easily see it on a Google map. Georgia Power also will install large-scale collectors on three miliary bases around the state.
 
But that kind of momentum hasn’t flowed to homeowner panels, says Jennette Gayer of Environment Georgia. 
 
"We have figured out how to make the economies of scale work in these large utility scale installations better than we have at the rooftop level," Gayer said. "Other States have figured it out better than Georgia has."
 
This gets at Georgia’s energy policy. In 2012 Georgia did not renew the state tax credit that Rosental used to reduce his upfront cost. 
 
Last year the state legislature rebuffed a bill that would have allowed homeowners to lease panels from a third-party solar developer. Twenty-two states have this arrangement that virtual removes the start-up expense for homeowners. But not Georgia.  Georgia Power opposes the concept because it sees the arrangements as a kind of competition.
 
Meanwhile, the city of Tybee Island on Georgia’s coast is trying another way to ease homeowner solar panel sticker shock.  
 
The city has plugged into a nationwide program called Solarize. Tybee Island would buy solar panels in bulk and offer them to interested residents at a reduced cost.  It’s the first solarize program in the state.  Paul Wolff, a Tybee Council member, said other cities that have done a Solarize project quickly see interest spread beyond their borders. 
 
Wolff said prior to last Monday’s public meeting on Solarize.
 
"I had gotten so many calls and emails from people ... who wondered if they could be involved that didn't live on Tybee "I said 'why not,'" Wolff said. 
 
So Wolff hopes to widen the offer of the panels to all of Chatham County. 
 
But he admits the homeowner still needs upfront cash to install a solar panel. 
 
And Roger Green, CEO of Greenavations and a solar advocate, said market forces will make it likely that homeowners ultimately see some benefit from solar. 
 
"I got asked by some people, some political people just what exactly was this gift that god gave to the south," he said. 
 
Meanwhile the leasing option – the Power Purchase Agreement – will again go before the state legislators in 2015.