A new program for Gwinnett residents, businesses and nonprofits aims to make it cheaper to access the benefits of rooftop solar by pooling resources to take advantage of new federal incentives.
The program is open to all property owners in the county and is based on a model that has been successfully implemented in communities across the country, organizers say. It was announced this week by Solarize Gwinnett, a private-public coalition that includes the county government and solar advocates.
“It’s really allowing a larger community to go solar, people for whom solar would be out of reach,” said Liz Ernst, the Georgia state coordinator for Climate Power, a nonprofit advocacy group.
Ernst said the catalyst for the program is the new tax credits for solar technology that were created as part of the Inflation Reduction Act, the huge healthcare and environment law passed last year.
Property owners who sign up get a free evaluation of their site’s suitability for solar panels before signing a contract. Organizers say the more participants, the steeper the discounts will be for the group to buy panels, battery storage and other infrastructure. They are also hoping to capitalize on public frustration with record profits posted by fossil-fuel companies and the rising cost of buying electricity from utilities.
Gwinnett’s two largest power providers are Jackson EMC and Georgia Power, the latter of which recently won a rate hike from regulators that saw customers’ bills increase by an average of about $4 a month, with more increases on the horizon.
“Solar works as a hedge against raising rates because the fuel source for solar is free, every day, from the sun,” said Don Moreland, the executive director of the Georgia Solar Energy Association. Moreland also owns Solar Crowdsource, the company that is overseeing the Solarize Gwinnett campaign and vetting contractors.
The average cost for a residential rooftop solar system in Georgia is about $21,000 for a 7-kilowatt system that can offset 50% to 80% of a home’s electricity usage, Moreland said. He said the bulk purchase program will knock at least 5% off that cost and likely more, depending on how many participants sign up.
One of the early bulk purchase sign-ups is St. John Neumann Catholic Church in Lilburn, which plans to be the first Catholic church in the metro area to go solar, said Jay Bassett, who helps lead the church’s environmental efforts.
“My view as a practicing Catholic is that I always look at it as faith through service,” Bassett said. “The pope makes a real argument of the morality around not just ecology and sustainability but in the context of social justice.”
Bassett said the church campus will start by installing solar panels on its community center and an administration building that houses a preschool. He said preliminary assessments project the panels will meet 40% to 60% of those buildings’ energy needs.
“Power bills are going to do nothing but increase... so it’s a way of putting more money into the plate for the other ministries,” Bassett said.
A note of disclosure
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