Georgia solar bill headed to governor

The state Senate unanimously passed solar energy legislation Friday meant to ease the market for consumers, sending the measure to Gov. Nathan Deal for his signature.

Called the Solar Power Free Market Financing Act, House Bill 57 is aimed at making it easier and more affordable for Georgia homeowners and small businesses to put solar panels on their rooftops.

The bill — sponsored by Republican state Rep. Mike Dudgeon of Johns Creek — clarifies how homeowners can get outside financing of small solar installations. Solar advocates say a key to winning over homeowners is to make it easier to finance installation and equipment, which can cost $15,000 or more. With financing, homeowners can avoid upfront costs and pay for their use of the system over time.

For years, solar legislation has failed to win House passage. But the latest bill eases earlier concerns that Georgia Power and other utilities have expressed about the safety of new installations, as well as their worries that the state would let in rival retail utilities. Those companies joined environmental groups and solar developers in supporting the legislation earlier this year.

A spokesman for Georgia Power said the utility was proud of its collaboration in producing the bill, which addressed some of the company’s “previous concerns, including the need for safety standards.”

“Georgia Power supported this legislation because we believe it allows for solar development in a responsible, cost-effective way that preserves the integrity and reliability of the grid and does not burden the nonsolar customer,” the spokesman, John Kraft, said in a statement.

Solar advocates said the legislation would give consumers, small businesses and schools more affordable ways to get solar energy from their rooftops. It would help property owners avoid steep upfront costs for solar panels by allowing them to enter into agreements for solar companies or local utilities to finance, own and maintain rooftop systems. Under a scenario popular in other states, consumers could essentially lease the systems, tapping into the energy for a monthly fee.

Dudgeon pushed it as a vote for the free market. The House passed HB 57 in February.

Brion Fitzpatrick, the chairman of the Georgia Solar Energy Association, said after Friday’s vote that the bill “shows how working together toward a common goal can transcend political divisions and produce lasting, productive results for all of Georgia.”

The bill comes as solar companies have complained that uncertainty about what’s allowed under Georgia law has made it hard to sell homeowners, small businesses, churches and schools on solar financing.

More than two dozen other states allow solar companies to cover the cost of new solar systems, own the equipment and then sell the power back to the customers.