Generating electricity with solar technology for commercial and residential use is not a new idea; home systems have been widely available for purchase for more than fifteen years. So why haven’t more business and homeowners adopted this clean technology? The initial investment to outfit a building or property with solar power can be anywhere from several thousand or tens of thousands of dollars. Like most evolving technologies, prices decrease as adoption increases but the biggest agent of change in Georgia may well prove to be House Bill 57.
HB 57 (“The Solar Power Free-Market Financing Act"), if passed, will allow Georgia business and homeowners to finance the investment of solar technology and pay back the investment over time with their energy savings. Further, not only will solar energy consumers be able to use the electricity generated to power their own property, but they will also have the right to sell excess energy to service providers.
Though this may seem like a fairly straightforward arrangement, the terms of this bill have been in negotiation for almost a year while proponents have tried to garner the support of major stakeholders, including Georgia Power, nearly forty EMCs (electric membership corporations) and over forty cities. One of the larger obstacles during the process has been Georgia’s Territorial Act which currently restricts the solar industry in Georgia by preventing private parties (such as businesses and households) from participating in lease financing agreements. The primary reason for these restrictions has been to avoid a proliferation of independent power suppliers that may upset the equilibrium of the current system and present power grid safety issues.
The writers of HB 57 recognize and appreciate this concern. Rather than restricting financing options, however, they agreed to include the following capacity limits:
Residential Applications: peak generating capacity of not more than 10 kilowatts.
Commercial Applications: 125% of the actual or expected maximum annual peak demand of the premises the solar technology serves (maximum single hour electric demand actually occurring or expected to occur at a premises, measured at the premises' electrical meter).
To address safety concerns, all necessary equipment must “meet applicable safety, power quality, and interconnection requirements established by the National Electrical Code, National Electrical Safety Code, Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and Underwriters Laboratories, prior to interconnecting the solar technology to the electric service provider's electric system.” All equipment and inspection-related expenses are the responsibility of the retail electric customer or the solar financing agent, not the electric service provider.
State Rep. Mike Dudgeon, an electrical engineer by training who drafted the legislation, is optimistic the bill will pass. It was approved in January by a House subcommittee created by State Rep. Don Parsons (R-Marietta), who chairs the House Energy, Utilities, & Telecommunications Committee. Now the bill must be approved by the Rules committee before making its way to the floor of the Georgia House of Representatives.
With thousands of Georgians employed by more than 150 solar companies in the state, Georgia is one of the nation’s fastest-growing solar markets. This bill is sure to garner attention from around the country as other states look to reduce their overall use of nonrenewable, dirty energy sources and stimulate economic growth. Legislative changes that lead to greater adoption of solar power may even bring the country one step closer to solar roadways, which have the potential to produce unprecedented amounts of clean energy and driverless cars.