Georgia Bright attracts low to moderate-income Georgia homeowners with solar leasing
David Morgan lives with his wife and three kids in a modest Garden City home he describes as a fixer-upper. The one-story, 1,700-square-foot home sits between the new Groves school complex and the railroad tracks off Highway 21. It’s not where you might expect to find solar panels on the roof.
But as of early February, a 10-kilowatt solar array crowns the Morgan home. Two large backup batteries are coming soon.
Savannah-based Be Smart Home Solutions is installing the system as part of the Georgia Bright program, which leases rooftop solar to Georgia homeowners with a household income of less than $100,000.
Georgia Bright offers leases with support from the Capital Good Fund, a certified nonprofit Community Development Financial Institution. Capital Good Fund uses federal funding, grants, and bulk purchase discounts to reduce the cost of installing solar on homeowners’ roofs. Homeowners pay nothing upfront. Once the solar is up and running, participants pay a monthly lease fee that’s based on the size of the home, the current electric bill and other factors. The savings on their electric bill is expected to outpace the cost of the lease.
Morgan, who said his monthly bill from Georgia Power runs about $239-$250 a month, heard about the program in the fall and immediately inquired. While he expects to save money, what really sold him was battery storage.
“I work in storm areas and watch a lot of people on a regular basis actually just lose power,” he said. “And it’s really difficult to recover when you have no power.”
Morgan travels the country for Copart, a company that recovers total loss vehicles for insurance companies during catastrophes.
“It’s everything from floods, winter storms, blizzards, just random ice and hail storms, tornadoes, hurricanes; we do it all,” he said.
Morgan bought his home in 2021 and wasn’t living in Savannah for Hurricanes Matthew or Irma. Still, he’s already experienced outages.
“With some heavy storms coming through, we’ve lost power for short periods of time,” he said. “But in the event that we lose power for a longer stretch of time, then you’d like to be prepared.”
Morgan, who is Black, is also not the typical solar adopter. That’s more often non-Hispanic whites, according to a 2022 report from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory that examined data for roughly 2.3 million residential rooftop solar systems installed through 2020, representing 82% of all U.S. systems.
The Georgia Bright program is eager to bring the benefits of solar to a more diverse group. That includes the benefits of a job. Be Smart Home Solutions, the installer for Georgia Bright along the coast, is owned by a Black woman, Nicole Lee. She worked alongside a crew of four Black men she helped train to install Morgan’s panels on a recent chilly morning.
Organizers announced the Georgia Bright program in September. Since then, 21 homeowners have signed solar lease contracts across the state and another five homeowners are nearing that point, said Andy Posner, the CEO of Capital Good Fund.
One of Morgan’s neighbors had solar installed last year. With Morgan’s array, local interest is increasing even more.
“My neighbor over here she’s actually thinking about looking into it and seeing what she can do,” he said. “So there are a few other individuals in the neighborhood that are actually interested in adding a little bit of savings.”
Morgan is interested in more than disaster preparedness and cost savings, though.
“Weather is what I do, you know, I clean up after it,” he said. “So when you actually do the research, when it comes to how carbon emissions affect weather patterns and things like that, it’s causing more and more devastation year after year, and it’s getting a lot worse. So everybody just really needs to start focusing on doing their part. Every small change matters. And the more we can actually make little changes as a whole, the more we can actually start undoing the damage that’s really becoming dangerous.”
Posner initially planned to put solar on 200 homes across Georgia with the pilot program. That target has been adjusted downward to account for the unexpected popularity of backup batteries, which can store power to keep the lights on in an outage and also allow homeowners to consume all their solar production themselves rather than selling it back to the utility at a discounted rate.
“We basically were looking to deploy $4 million worth of systems,” Posner said. And we’ve had a pleasant surprise, which is that the average system costs has been higher than I thought because more people are going with batteries, which is great. So it’s probably gonna be more like 165 to 170 (systems).”
The batteries, which attach to the side of the house, cost about $10,000 apiece. While homeowners like Morgan want to be prepared, others choose battery backup because they’re dependent on medical equipment that runs on electricity. So far, the monthly lease payment is averaging $113 for solar panels plus battery storage. For systems that are solar panels only, the average is about $52 a month, Posner said.
“But that doesn’t mean that a battery adds $80. Photovoltaic plus storage systems tend to be larger, either because the home is bigger and/or because they need more solar to be able to charge up the batteries,” he said.
To learn more about how to become a Georgia Bright home, visit bit.ly/GABRIGHT or call (866) 584-3651.
This story was provided by WABE content partner The Current.