Georgia utilities, solar advocates weigh in on third party financing law impacts

Although Georgia has emerged as a clean energy leader in recent years due in part to large-scale solar investments, remaining policy barriers have resulted in sluggish growth for the state’s rooftop market growth despite the third party financing law being passed last summer.  (© iStock)

Georgia legislators heard from a variety of speakers late last week about how the state’s rooftop solar industry has fared since the Solar Power Free-Market Financing Act passed last summer, and the barriers that rooftop customers and solar installers continue to face.

Rep. Mike Dudgeon, who spearheaded the solar financing law, opened Thursday’s legislative hearing with three questions: whether Georgians are using the third party financing option, what barriers remain, and whether there are other areas to improve in implementing the law.   

By clarifying that financing opportunities do not violate utility monopoly protection laws, the Solar Power Free-Market Financing Act aims to make investing in solar much easier for homeowners, small businesses, schools and churches. The law authorizes financing arrangements with private solar companies based on solar output, potentially reducing or eliminating the high upfront costs of solar panels and installation.

SELC and numerous other parties, including solar business interests, conservative lawmakers, other environmental groups, state utilities and organizations like the Georgia Property Rights Council and Georgians for Solar Freedom spent months collaborating on the legislation to allow for third-party participation in solar financing throughout the Peach State.

With the ability under the new law to finance installations with no upfront costs, Atlanta became the first city in Georgia to commit to installing solar panels on public buildings through its Solar Atlanta program.  

But while Georgia’s solar industry has continued to expand rapidly, the majority of that growth has been limited to large utility-scale solar arrays.

SELC and other groups have been looking more closely at solar policies across the state, finding that several municipal utilities and electric member cooperatives have imposed fees and other onerous requirements on rooftop solar since the law was passed.

In testimony, solar advocates made the case that customers and solar installers face an informational barrier, as many of Georgia’s electric utilities don’t make solar policies clear and easily accessible. Similarly, most utilities in Georgia don’t provide customers their energy usage data, which helps customers and solar installers properly size solar systems and decide whether solar is a good option.

“It is difficult to get basic information,” said Jason Rooks, with the Georgia Solar Energy Industries Association.

A follow up hearing is expected to address additional questions and concerns.

Read more about the hearing in the AJC: “Lawmakers seek to spark more use of solar law”

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