Solar victory in Oxford, Ga., means lower bills for rooftop solar customers

High monthly fees, a major barrier to rooftop solar, were recently removed for residents of Oxford, Georgia looking to install clean, affordable energy at home. (© Getty Images)

A small Georgia city became a lot more solar-friendly earlier this year when the Oxford City Council voted to get rid of the city-owned utility’s steep monthly fee for customers with solar panels on their homes.

The monthly fee, called a standby capacity charge, specifically targeted customers with solar installations. Solar standby fees discriminate against customers that have rooftop solar and make it far harder for customers interested in solar to justify the costs. The amount of the Oxford fee varied depending on the size of a customer’s solar system. For a customer with an average sized rooftop system, it added nearly $50 a month to the customer’s bill.  

Oxford adopted the standby capacity charge for solar in 2016. Since then there has been very little rooftop solar growth in the city. While the recent Solarize Newton-Morgan campaign increased local interest in solar, with steep monthly fees, the economics just didn’t pan out for many residents. The launch of SELC’s website RatesofSolar.com, which collects solar rates across the region, also highlighted how out of line Oxford’s solar policies were with best practices.

In April, Oxford city councilmember David Eady led the effort to remove the solar fee for residential customers. “I’m proud to be a member of the city council responsible for getting rid of this discriminatory charge that targeted Oxford residents who wanted to put solar panels on their homes,” said Eady. “Removing the unsupported and punitive fees on rooftop solar gives our citizens more freedom to control energy costs and lessen their energy burden.”

By removing the fee, residents interested in going solar have one less hurdle to clear. “I have long wanted to reduce our carbon footprint, and solar power seemed like part of the answer,” said Laura McCanless, an Oxford resident. “Last year, without realizing the heavy penalties in Oxford, we had decided to pursue solar on the roof.  When we found out how extreme the fees were, we decided it just couldn't be done with the city. We were delighted that the city council passed the fee suspension.” Ms. McCanless and her husband started the process of installing solar on their home as soon as the fee was removed.

Punitive and discriminatory monthly fees are one of the greatest barriers to rooftop solar.”

—Attorney Jill Kysor

Eliminating the residential fee was an important first step. But Oxford still imposes steep monthly fees on businesses that install solar.

The type of fee charged in Oxford is, unfortunately, not unusual. Many of Georgia’s municipally owned utilities continue to charge rooftop solar customers discriminatory monthly fees, essentially for simply purchasing less electricity.

“Punitive and discriminatory monthly fees are one of the greatest barriers to rooftop solar. City utilities across Georgia have been imposing these solar fees for years,” said Jill Kysor, an SELC staff attorney in the Atlanta office. “We hope that other cities will follow Oxford’s lead and remove these unnecessary solar standby charges.”

Learn more about utility rooftop solar policies where you live and across the Southeast at RatesOfSolar.com.

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