Georgia lawmakers consider certification process for solar installers

Program would be overseen by utility regulators at the Public Service Commission
Alternative Energy Southeast employee Aaron Basto installs eighteen solar panels to the roof of a resident Tuesday, June 7, 2022, in Ellenwood, Ga. (Jason Getz /

Credit: Jason Getz /

Credit: Jason Getz /

Alternative Energy Southeast employee Aaron Basto installs eighteen solar panels to the roof of a resident Tuesday, June 7, 2022, in Ellenwood, Ga. (Jason Getz /

A Georgia House bill would create a new certification process for all residential solar installers, which supporters say is needed to protect customers from a few “bad actors” who are scamming customers with expensive solar systems and false promises of free electricity.

Solar companies and industry trade groups say they are not opposed to regulation, but worry the bill, as written, could stifle a local market that is already facing significant headwinds.

House Bill 73 advanced out of the House Energy, Utilities and Telecommunications Committee Tuesday by a unanimous vote and now heads to the full chamber.

If passed, the bill would give new authority to the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) — the state’s regulatory body for overseeing utilities — to vet residential installers and issue a “certificate of authority” if they meet certain criteria.

When installed properly on a rooftop with good sun exposure, solar systems can reduce customers’ bills and a home’s carbon footprint.

But the PSC and the state’s largest utility — Georgia Power — say they’ve fielded a deluge of complaints from customers who claim they were ripped off by installers promising solar systems that would eliminate monthly electricity bills. Last summer, Attorney General Chris Carr warned Georgians about the misleading marketing used by some solar companies.

The bill’s lead sponsor, Rep. Joseph Gullett (R-Dallas), said the companies using deceptive practices are a small minority of those operating in Georgia.

“I want to stress that not all companies are predatory who do this installation — most are good,” Gullett said. “But the ones that are bad are really bad and they’re really hurting our constituents.”

Joe McClain, left, and Mike Harris, right, installers for Creative Solar USA, move solar panels onto the roof of a home in Ball Ground, Georgia on December 17th, 2021.

Credit: Nathan Posner for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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Credit: Nathan Posner for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

As currently written, the bill would require all solar company employees working on customer properties to clear a criminal background check and the companies themselves will have to turn over financials to the PSC showing they have adequate capital by Jan. 1. Residential sellers would also have to provide customers with a detailed disclosure outlining payment terms, calculations used to determine potential electricity savings, and a statement declaring whether the customer owns or is leasing the system.

The bill also gives the PSC broad latitude to set other requirements, as long as they don’t hamper companies with “unnecessary barriers.”

PSC Chairman Tricia Pridemore said she and the four other commissioners will work with “legitimate” solar developers to implement the program and thinks the extra vetting will benefit the industry.

“I think this is an opportunity to be able to have some accountability over solar providers, and then, more importantly, for the Georgia consumers so they know that there’s somebody out there that’s fishing out the bad guys,” Pridemore said.

But solar companies and interest groups say they have grave concerns about the bill and whether the PSC is the proper agency to oversee the program.

Don Moreland, the executive director of the Georgia Solar Energy Association — a trade association representing a range of solar interests — said the industry welcomes regulation to help weed out bad actors. Currently, there is no specific licensing requirement for solar installers.

Moreland said he also supports the customer disclosures the bill proposes. But, he said putting the PSC — which typically regulates utilities like Georgia Power — could lead to a certification process that’s costly and burdensome for small businesses.

“A licensing mechanism is fine, but we’re just really concerned that now you’re going to have a ‘mom and pop’ company that’s trying to make their way in their residential solar business being regulated just like a gas marketer or like AT&T or Verizon,” Moreland said. “It makes no sense, it’s not congruent and it’s not fair.”

Pridemore disagrees.

“Having the Georgia Public Service Commission determine the legitimacy of a company is only going to make those ‘mom and pop’ solar developers more profitable, faster,” she said.

The Biden Administration is pumping billions into expanding U.S. solar manufacturing and renewable energy sources to help combat change. Georgia recently landed a $2.5 billion expansion by solar panel maker Qcells.

But the industry has faced other recent headwinds, some of which have been inflicted by the very agency that could soon be tasked with regulating solar businesses.

Last December, the PSC declined to expand a popular Georgia Power rooftop solar program that allowed customers to be credited at a higher rate for excess electricity they send back to grid and dramatically cut their bills. Instead, the commission approved a small increase in the payment rate solar customers receive for their extra electrons. Solar advocates argued it was not enough.

The industry at-large has also been weighed down by international trade disputes and lingering supply chain issues from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Thatcher Young, the vice president of business development for Velo Solar, said the story of solar growth in Georgia is really a “tale of two industries.”

While Georgia is still among the top 10 states in the country for installed solar capacity, its ranking is driven by massive arrays that provide electricity for utilities — not small, rooftop systems.

Young says state legislators and recent regulatory decisions risk setting the industry back even farther.

“I think if Georgia really wants to stay competitive in the clean energy economy, like we’re doing with electric transportation, we need to really have an open conversation about the barriers that are being put in place,” Young said.

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