ATLANTA — Six years in the past, the Basic Meeting handed laws permitting Georgia property homeowners to make use of third-party financing to put in rooftop photo voltaic panels at their houses and companies.
Now, representatives of photo voltaic installers and their environmentalist allies are warning the momentum the business has constructed since 2015 may grind to a halt except the state Public Service Fee orders Georgia Energy to elevate a cap on a pilot rooftop photo voltaic program restricted to five,000 prospects. This system is about to hit that cap due to an surprising surge of curiosity.
“It’s a very talked-about program,” Don Moreland, coverage chairman for the Georgia Photo voltaic Power Affiliation and owner-operator of Photo voltaic CrowdSource, informed the PSC throughout a latest listening to. “[But] as soon as we hit this cover … it will trigger the rooftop market to utterly crash.”
The fee permitted the pilot program as a part of Georgia Energy’s 2019 price case. It bought off to a gradual begin, with simply 1,347 functions final yr.
However curiosity has taken off this yr. Simply in Might and June, Georgia Energy acquired as many functions as in all of 2020 and thrice the quantity that got here in throughout 2019.
“The big quantity of functions have been, fairly frankly, shocking,” stated Steven Hewitson, a lawyer representing the Atlanta-based utility on the July 1 listening to. “That’s slowed down the processing time.”
The pilot program is because of be re-evaluated subsequent yr when Georgia Energy brings its subsequent price case earlier than the PSC. The utility desires to maintain the cap at 5,000 prospects till then.
“The constraints particularly had been put in place so the corporate and the fee may consider the affect of … this system to the system and different prospects,” Hewitson stated. “There’s no cause to revisit that limitation now.”
However Moreland stated the PSC isn’t anticipated to subject a ruling within the price case till late subsequent yr. Ready 18 months for a choice on lifting the cap would create an extended interval of uncertainty that would “chill the [solar] market,” he stated.
“It is a in style coverage proper now,” added Russell Seifert, founder and CEO of Artistic Photo voltaic USA. “It’s working.”
Seifert and others level to neighboring states which might be extra aggressively pursuing rooftop photo voltaic than Georgia. Florida leads the best way with greater than 85,000 installations, in accordance with the U.S. Power Data Administration.
Greater than 23,000 rooftops in South Carolina sport photo voltaic panels, and greater than 21,000 photo voltaic installations have taken place in North Carolina.
A coalition of photo voltaic installers not too long ago despatched a letter asking Georgia Energy to elevate the cap on its rooftop photo voltaic pilot program.
“Rooftop photo voltaic means native jobs. It places cash straight into Georgia’s economic system,” Seifert stated. “[Lifting the cap] will permit the business to proceed its regular progress, present clear market alerts to advertise extra funding and permit the pilot to proceed till the fee is ready to absolutely overview it.”
Mark Woodall, legislative chair for the Georgia chapter of the Sierra Membership, stated Georgia Energy has emphasised giant “utility-scale” photo voltaic tasks over rooftop photo voltaic as a result of the bigger tasks are inexpensive per kilowatt-hour of energy they produce.
“Utility-scale is cheaper, however we want all of the photo voltaic we are able to get,” he stated.
Jill Kysor, a senior legal professional with the Atlanta-based Southern Environmental Regulation Middle, praised the PSC for supporting utility-scale photo voltaic funding. The most recent instance got here July 7 when the fee permitted Georgia Energy’s plan to purchase 970 megawatts of solar energy from 5 different utilities.
“We’ve got grow to be a photo voltaic chief on utility-scale photo voltaic due to fee motion,” Kysor stated. “There’s a possibility to comply with by way of with rooftop photo voltaic with none large threat.”
Even when the PSC doesn’t elevate the cap on rooftop photo voltaic installations in Georgia, the Basic Meeting could step in. Laws launched within the state Senate in March would restrict the charges utilities can cost property homeowners who set up rooftop photo voltaic and permit the fee to elevate any cap a utility locations on the variety of photo voltaic installations below sure circumstances.
Senate Invoice 299 didn’t obtain a listening to as a result of it was launched so late on this yr’s legislative session. However it’s nonetheless alive within the Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee with the influential bipartisan backing of Senate Guidelines Committee Chairman Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, and Senate Minority Chief Gloria Butler, D-Decatur.