Georgia's solar association creates political arm

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ATLANTA — The trade organization for the state’s solar installers and manufacturers signed a deal Friday to affiliate with the national industry group as part of a strategy to step up its political activity.

Georgia industry leaders signed the deal with the Washington-based Solar Energy Industries Associa­tion to create Georgia SEIA. The new organization will be a sister to the Georgia Solar Energy Association, which will serve as its education and advocacy arm.

About 200 people attending the fourth-annual Solar Summit witnessed the signing. They represent 88 companies from across the state.

The emphasis on lobbying is aimed at shaping state policy and legislation to encourage more use of solar power.

“I’m tired of hearing how much North Carolina is doing. I’m tired of hearing how much Florida is doing. We have just as much sun as Flor­ida and more sun than North Carolina,” said An­tho­ny Coker, the chairman of the Georgia Solar Energy Association.

North Carolina has 108 megawatts of photovoltaic panels installed and ready to generate power when the sun strikes them. As of Thursday, Georgia had just 18 megawatts.

“You have a small market in Georgia because your policy is a little behind what you are seeing in other states,” said Rhone Resch, the president of Solar Energy Industries Association.

The industry would like to require Georgia Power to pay retail rates for electricity it buys from consumers whose solar panels generate more power than they need. It also wants a law change to allow corporations to install solar panels on the roofs of other companies and sell the power to the building owners. Current law limits the sale of electricity to regulated utilities.

This year’s election of two seats on the Public Service Commission and the entire General Assembly presents the industry with an opportunity to sway policy. But its trade organizations won’t endorse any candidates or be a major campaign contributor this year.

The industry is feeling the sting of conservative attacks on President Obama for his assistance to a solar-panel maker that went broke after receiving federal loans. Resch said that company, Solyndra, isn’t representative of the industry.

“We have gone from an industry enjoying 95 percent public support to being one of the industries being attacked,” he said.


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