Plugging into solar power in Georgia no longer means having to add panels to your roof for Georgia Power customers.
The company is launching a community solar program that would allow customers to lease part of a large array. It is among the efforts across Georgia that makes it one of the fastest growing states in adding solar power.
Beginning this month, Georgia Power will allow subscribers to pay $24.99 per panel to subscribe to up to 10 panels on a block of 3,000 , with one already built outside Athens, Ga. Subscribers would then get a corresponding share of the panel’s production, which the company estimated would be between 130-240 kilowatt hours per month, with an average of 180 kilowatt hours.
That energy would then be credited against the energy used in the customer’s bill. The company cautioned that it could not guarantee the output would offset the cost of subscribing. The option opens up solar for people whose homes wouldn’t be good candidates because of shade or roof size and age or because they are renters, the company said.
A similar program offered through Central Georgia Electric Membership Cooperative and Coastal EMC have proven wildly popular and both have sold out all 4,000 slots available. Those programs draw on a total of 72 megawatts of projects built in Hazelhurst, Ga., by Nashville-based Silicon Ranch in coordination with the state’s electric coops, who have their own renewable power initiative called Green Power EMC. Jefferson Energy Cooperative is one of 38 that offers the options of Cooperative Solar, similar to community solar, for its customers through the Hazelhurst facility.
Silicon Ranch and Green Power EMC signed an agreement last summer to to build 200 megawatts more of solar power at four facilities throughout the state, said Matt Beasley, chief marketing officer for Silicon Ranch.
“The co-ops have been innovative in how they have structured their renewable energy procurement because they’ve established a model that has enabled them to achieve extremely low-cost solar power that can benefit their members by aggregating their buying power, which is, if you think about, a community solar concept of its own, ” he said.
While it is just getting on board with community solar, Georgia Power has been adding solar capacity of its own with plans for much more, said spokesman John Kraft. Solar is among the company’s portfolio of 900 megawatts of renewable energy, with a 30 megawatt solar array Silicon Ranch built for them in Social Circle, as well as a military solar program that includes 30 megawatt solar arrays at Fort Gordon in Augusta, Fort Stewart outside Savannah and Fort Benning, as well as Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay in Georgia.
At some point, it will include a 5-megawatt community solar array at Plant Vogtle that the Georgia Public Service Commission made a condition of allowing the company and its partners to complete two new nuclear reactors there. Commission Vice Chair Tim Echols, who made the motion to add solar there, wants it to be the first thing people see when they visit the site near Waynesboro, although Georgia Power was not given a timeline to add it and Echols said it will probably have to wait until the majority of the new reactor construction is done.
“It may be several years before the solar project is completed at Vogtle because the ideal location is one of the construction parking lots outside the gate,” Echols said. “I believe it will be done by 2021 and it will be a nice welcoming site to those coming to the plant.”
Both solar and the new nuclear could carry an additional benefit in that neither produces carbon dioxide in energy generation the way fossil fuels do, which adds to climate change, and some countries and provinces in Canada already tax that kind of energy generation. It will not happen in the immediate future but it may be coming, Echols said.
“I believe that there will be a value assigned to carbon, not under (President) Donald Trump’s administration but under a future presidential administration therefore Georgia should continue to prepare by adding more carbon-free energy to our energy mix over the next 20 years,” he said.
As it has gone into rural communities in Georgia to build, Silicon Ranch has found solar is readily embraced by those communities, Beasley said. In Jeff Davis County, the company employed 300 people for nearly 18 months during construction and is currently the largest taypayer in the county. More than that, the company has reached out to the local high school to become part of its programming, he said.
“We’ve given tours of the facility and have arranged for the school to receive data feeds from our facility that they can use in the classroom for real-time educational experiences,” Beasley said. The company works with the local development authority to “illustrate how its status as one of the leading solar communities in the United States provides a ‘tool in the tool box’ when they are trying to recruit forward-thinking companies to invest in their community,” he said. “Having cutting-edge electrical infrastructure is something they can promote.”
If Georgia Power does well with its community solar program, Echols said he believes the company will come back to the Public Service Commission to request permission to build more. And as they begin to experience solar, he believes businesses and families will want more as well.
“As we build more community solar arrays throughout rural Georgia and people receive a financial benefit on their bill every single month, those people begin to look for it, expect it and appreciate it and as they do they will embrace solar energy as something that is good for them, for their community and for the state,” Echols said.
Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or email@example.com