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Local News

Solar Power Fans Pine for Sunnier Days After Georgia Lawmakers Stalled Big Changes

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by Stanley Dunlap, Georgia Recorder

Solar energy advocates anticipate lawmakers will continue to push for legislation in 2024 that could lead to big changes to industry regulations and could rapidly expand Georgia’s rooftop solar market. 

Georgia’s legislative session for 2023 ended on March 29 with a door-to-door sales bill representing the only solar measure to win final approval in both the state House and Senate. Half a dozen solar-related bills that still remain alive when lawmakers return in January for the second half of the two-year session.

The most controversial proposal  that could return next year is House Bill 73, legislation with bipartisan support that could provide state utility regulators with oversight of solar contractors that finance and install residential rooftop solar panels. Meanwhile, a measure backed by clean energy advocates could move Georgia out of the bottom ten states for solar-powered homes and businesses.

Don Moreland, executive director of the Georgia Solar Energy Industries Association, said he expects modifications will be made to solar bills to get them passed next year. And more solar initiatives could be in store when the General Assembly returns to the Capitol in January.

Rep. Kasey Carpenter, a Dalton Republican, says he intends to continue promoting a measure that prohibits homeowners’ associations from blocking residents from installing solar panels on the rooftops of their homes and storage buildings.

He said that House Bill 355 can be rewritten so that only newly formed homeowners’ associations established after the law takes effect can prohibit rooftop solar installation atop houses.

“What’s been going on in North Carolina and all over the U.S., there’s been a movement to say, look this is more about electricity and energy independence than it is trying to ruin an HOA,” Carpenter said. “People should have the right to power their house how they see fit.”

Georgia Solar and the Sierra Club of Georgia have lauded many of the provisions in Dallas GOP Rep. Joseph Gullett’s House Bill 73 that requires solar contractors to disclose all information to consumers, including the amount of energy the panels will generate, the projected utility savings, and how much their utility company will pay them for excess solar energy they return to the grid.

The legislation would provide more oversight of an industry where out-of-state scammers will make false claims about utility bill savings and sell overpriced equipment to unsuspecting consumers, according to Gullett.

If you’re exporting a bunch of solar energy in the middle of the day, especially in the summertime when everybody’s blaring their air conditioners and all of this electricity is being put on the grid at that time, then we believe that that energy is valuable

– Don Moreland, executive director of Georgia Solar Energy Industries Association

The state solar association, however, remains steadfast in its disagreement to Gullett’s desire to give the Georgia Public Service Commission authority over regulating solar businesses. 

Mark Woodall, conservation chair of Sierra Club Georgia, also doesn’t want the industry controlled by a commission that allows a monopoly like Georgia Power to stifle solar energy development.

The session ended before senators voted on the legislation. Moreland said GA Solar prefers that the companies are regulated by professional licensing boards under the authority of the Georgia secretary of state. 

“We have recognized there’s been a lot of bad actors in our industry, mostly out of state marketers that have really given the whole industry a bit of a black eye,” he said. “We recognize that something needs to be done. In fact, we’ve been calling for consumer protection legislation for two years now.

“We just don’t believe the residential solar industry should be regulated by the Public Service Commission like a utility like a telecom company or a gas marketer,” Moreland said. “Those are apples to oranges.”

GA Solar will monitor the rollout later this year of Republican Sen. John Albers Senate Bill 149, which is intended to prevent door-to-door salesmen from misleading customers. Under the measure, homeowners have 30 days to rescind contracts for goods and services priced at $10,000 or above and financed for at least five years. Additionally, a detailed receipt must be provided by the seller.

“A lot of times these door to door guys can be high pressure salesmen and they can kind of trick you or be very persuasive sometimes and I maybe get the homeowner into something that they otherwise wouldn’t get into,” Moreland said.

Georgia ranks among the top 10 states for solar capacity, Moreland said, but only a relatively small percentage of that is residential rooftop solar.

The solar association and environmentalists support Dallas Republican Sen. Jason Anivitarte’s Senate Bill 210, which they say will deliver the biggest jolt to rooftop solar in Georgia by expanding net metering beyond the current 5,000 participants.

With net metering, Georgia Power would pay the full retail rate for excess energy produced by solar-powered homes and businesses. The extra bill credits would be double what new solar energy consumers earn, which would drastically reduce the number of years it takes to recoup installation and equipment costs, industry leaders said.

Georgia Power argues that net metering unfairly shifts costs onto consumers who use other forms of energy to provide electricity to their homes and businesses. The PSC supported the position of the state’s largest electricity provider when it approved a new rate hike on its customers in December.

Moreland disagrees with Georgia Power and the company’s endorsement by the five-member state regulatory commission.

“If you’re exporting a bunch of solar energy in the middle of the day, especially in the summertime when everybody’s blaring their air conditioners and all of this electricity is being put on the grid at that time, then we believe that that energy is valuable,” he said.

This story was written by Stanley Dunlap, a reporter for the Georgia Recorder, where this story first appeared.

Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Georgia Recorder maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John McCosh for questions: info@georgiarecorder.com. Follow Georgia Recorder on Facebook and Twitter.