As Pilot Rooftop Solar Program In Georgia Nears Its Limit, Advocates Push For It To Expand

Solar power companies and advocates are urging Georgia regulators to expand a program that makes rooftop solar panels more cost-effective. The pilot program with Georgia Power has turned out to be so popular that it’s about to get maxed out.

The program allows people to get more money for the electricity generated by the solar panels on their roofs. It was approved in 2019 and launched last year.

In the past couple months, it’s really taken off.

At a hearing Thursday, Georgia Public Service Commission staffer Jamie Barber told the commissioners the program is about to hit its 5,000-participant limit.

“The applications have increased dramatically,” she said.

It’s caught Georgia Power by surprise, attorney Steve Hewitson said at the hearing. He said though some are pushing to remove the limit on the number of participants, Georgia Power would like it to stay in place.

“We don’t think that there’s a reason to ignore the cap that the commission so thoughtfully put on,” he said.

Before the hearing, a group of Georgia solar industry companies and supporters sent a letter to the commissioners, urging them to do away with the limit and to allow new people to keep enrolling.

Russell Seifert, CEO of Georgia-based solar installation company Creative Solar USA, was one of those who signed on.

At the hearing, he told commissioners the pilot program has led to steady growth in the rooftop solar industry here.

“Rooftop solar means local jobs,” he said. “It puts money directly into Georgia’s economy, homeowners’ and employees’ pockets that go out and spend that money other various ways.”

Another solar advocate told commissioners that the pilot has been important for the industry as it recovers from the effects of the pandemic. Don Moreland, who works with the Solarize program to help lower rooftop solar costs, said that if the limit stays in place, he’s worried interest in rooftop solar will slow.

“It’s very concerning,” he said. “We’re just picking ourselves up off of the ground with the pandemic right now.”

Moreland also said without access to the more generous pilot program, low- and moderate-income households will have a harder time getting financing for solar panels through Solarize programs like the one currently running in Atlanta.

The pilot program was created in the 2019 rate case, the formal proceeding where the Georgia Public Service Commission reviews and approves Georgia Power’s rates. The next rate case begins in 2022, which is when Georgia Power recommends revisiting the number of participants in the program.

PSC Chairman Lauren “Bubba” McDonald said he’s not inclined to change the rules on the pilot program ahead of the next rate case, but he said he’s still open to listening.