Solar leases aim to make rooftop panels more accessible to Georgians

Georgians who want to generate their own electricity from solar panels on their roofs but can’t afford the cost of installation now have the option to lease the equipment under a new program made possible by unprecedented federal climate spending.

Organizers say the Georgia BRIGHT program, which launched as a pilot this week with support from the cities of Atlanta and Savannah, is the first of its kind in Georgia, but likely not the last. The sprawling 2022 healthcare and climate bill known as the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) included billions of dollars in tax credits, rebates and other incentives designed to make solar energy production more accessible to low- and moderate-income households. Over a year later, those programs are starting to take shape.

Georgia is in the top 10 states for solar capacity, according to a leading industry association, but most of that is comprised of large-scale solar farms owned by utilities, not rooftop panels on homes or businesses. Rooftop solar has struggled to take off, with solar advocates blaming the state’s largest utility, Georgia Power, and regulators for adopting policies that blunt the economic benefit to customers.

The up-front cost for an average home to install panels is about $20,000, not including battery storage, and it can take years for the investment to pay off. The initial pilot for the Georgia BRIGHT leasing program aims to enroll at least 200 homeowners who make $100,000 or less across the state. The lease agreement includes an energy production guarantee organizers say should result in immediate energy savings for participants.

Georgia Environmental Finance Authority officials are also contemplating lease programs in the state’s application for up to $250 million in federal funds under the IRA’s Solar for All program.

“It’s truly a multi-billion dollar opportunity,” said Andy Posner, the founder of Capital Good Fund, the nonprofit community development financial institution (CDFI) behind the Georgia BRIGHT program.

Georgia Power is in the early stages of establishing its own lease program for energy-efficiency upgrades that could one day include solar equipment as well, a spokesperson said.

Previously, nonprofits like the Capital Good Fund were unable to take advantage of federal clean energy tax credits because they don’t pay taxes. The IRA made those tax credits refundable for nonprofits, meaning they get a check from the Internal Revenue Service for the value of the credit.

The fund intends to use these payments, as well as corporate energy credits and philanthropic donations, to offer low-interest leases to homeowners of modest means who might not otherwise qualify for a loan or a lease from a for-profit solar company, an arrangement that is more common in other states. Capital Good Fund will own and maintain the equipment. If a participant defaults on payment, the fund can remove the solar equipment but must leave the roof in the same condition it was in before installation.

Posner hopes to achieve several things with the program: to prove the model can work, to influence policy in Georgia and make it more favorable to rooftop solar, and to position his organization to receive some of the $27 billion from the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund that was created by the IRA to scale up and serve thousands more.

Atlanta’s chief sustainability officer, Chandra Farley, said the Georgia BRIGHT program will complement the city’s other efforts to reduce residents’ energy burden, or the share of their income that goes toward energy costs. Georgians spend a larger percentage of their income on energy than the national average, especially among lower-income households, according to the Department of Energy.

“We see the Georgia BRIGHT solar lease program as an opportunity to make clean energy like solar more accessible to our most energy-burdened residents,” Farley said in an email.

The city’s weatherization program, WeatheRISE ATL, seeks to reduce energy costs for some 200 households through home efficiency upgrades and retrofits over the next year.

Bryan Jacob, the solar program director for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, which is not involved in the leasing program, said he expects to see more nonprofit entities take advantage of the expanded incentives. Those could include houses of worship, like a church that wants to install its own solar panels, but also nonprofit utilities such as electric membership cooperatives and municipal power companies.

“This is leveling the playing field for them,” Jacob said.

He also pointed to other new or updated federal funding mechanisms that could boost the solar market in Georgia, including funds specifically targeting existing energy infrastructure and clean energy programs for rural communities.

A spokesperson for Green Power EMC, a renewable energy provider to 38 electric membership cooperatives in Georgia, said the cooperatives are “closely evaluating” various programs like tax credits, grants and loans for projects that could benefit members.

The Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia, a nonprofit that serves public power companies in the state, declined to comment.

A note of disclosure

This coverage is supported by a partnership with 1Earth Fund, the Kendeda Fund and Journalism Funding Partners. You can learn more and support our climate reporting by donating at