Georgia ranks 10th in the nation for solar capacity — the amount of electricity that can be generated for solar power, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.
However, the state lags behind in “rooftop solar,” the number of homes and businesses that have their own solar panels. Now, a concentrated effort to increase residential and commercial properties using solar is underway in the midstate through April with the Solarize Middle Georgia program.
Similar initiatives have taken place in other Georgia communities, like Athens-Clarke County, where residents are able to sign up for free evaluations that could help determine if solar is a worthy investment.
It’s a push to expand an industry that’s faced a series of challenges over the last couple of decades. The market once became over-saturated by the number of companies in the industry, which led to more panels being produced than interested buyers.
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There were also some drawbacks about how long it would take to recoup the investment that would run in the tens of thousands of dollars. In 2018, solar panel costs have dramatically reduced, with most averaging $11,380 to $14,990 after federal tax credits, according to energysage.com.
“The price of solar has come down 70 percent since 2010,” said Don Moreland, executive director of Solar CrowdSource who is also involved in Solarize Middle Georgia. “Some of the incentives that used to be in place have gone away. Solar is now competitive with what you would otherwise pay for the utility bill. ... You come out way ahead with solar compared to other electric bills.”
In Georgia, there are currently no state tax credits related to solar. The 30 percent federal tax incentive is available for the full amount through the end of 2019.
“In the simplest terms, I’ve always said the sun is going to shine and that’s a free resource,” said Sam Kitchens, a member of the area’s Clean Air Coalition, who is also Jones County Commissioner and Macon-Bibb department director. “The only money it costs is to collect it and turn it into electricity. Up until recently it really wasn’t economically feasible.”
The state’s Public Service Commission, a public utilities commission, has been critical in companies investing in large-scale solar farms, Moreland said.
About 95 percent of Georgia’s solar capacity comes from “solar farms,” utility scale properties where the energy generated is sold back to an entity like Georgia Power.
Those types of operations have become more common in middle and south Georgia.
Bill Elliott said his power bill at his Moultrie farm has decreased from about $250 a month to $30 a month since he installed solar panels on the property. He spent $30,000 in 2012 on the panels but was able to recoup 60 percent of the costs through incentives (businesses are able to factor in depreciation).
What a utility entity is charging for kilowatt per hour is a key factor in deciding if solar makes sense and how long it could cost to pay off the investment, said Elliott, who is a part of RockBridge Energy Solar firm. “Most people think it’s going to take 10 or 15 years.”
“If you are a business and your kilowatt cost generates 10 cents or more ... you’re likely going to pay that back with the tax credits in about five years,” he said.