ATLANTA -- Georgia’s 225-percent increase in jobs related to the solar-energy industry is the highest in the nation as it plays catch-up to other states.
The jump comes largely from a combination of prices and Georgia Power’s program to add solar-generating capacity, according to Rhone Resch, president of the Solar Energy Industries Association.
The national trade group credits falling prices for solar panels and a 12.8 percent annual boost in the state’s average electricity rate, which is double the national average. Those prices changes are prompting more customers to consider installing solar panels on their own property, he said.
At the same time, Georgia Power, the state’s largest electric utility, is in the midst of its Advanced Solar Initiative in which it is contracting with solar companies to produce power. Earlier this month, it got 1,204 applications for contracts to build 200 medium-scale projects the utility.
“You’re talking about a huge economic gain to the state by giving consumers what they want,” Resch said.
Pete Marte, chief executive officer of the Atlanta-based solar installation company Hannah Solar, estimates those 1,204 applications represent more than $1 billion that the applying companies are ready to invest in the technology, many because the consumer-product firms they supply are demanding it in order to market their sustainability. Only about $100 million in contracts will be awarded.
Georgia has 146 solar companies like Hannah Solar as well as several firms that make the actual panels. Together they account for about 2,600 jobs and growing 1,800 jobs in the previous year, according to SEIA’s annual industry survey.
However, the state was just seventh in the amount of total solar-generating capacity in operation. Resch predicted the Peach State would leap into the Top 5 states by the time next year’s survey is conducted.
Jason Rooks, director of government affairs for the Georgia SEIA, said he hopes the General Assembly next year will pass legislation to open the door to additional financing options that have fueled the flood of solar-panel installations and the related jobs in the states that are ahead of Georgia.
“You can’t say only rich people can have solar,” he said.