Solar power looking brighter in Georgia

Aug 27 - McClatchy-Tribune
> Regional News - Mary Landers Savannah Morning News, Ga.
> With costs down, government subsidies up and an expanded solar
> buy-back program recently approved by the Georgia Public Service
> Commission, solar is becoming a more attractive alternative here,
> presenters at the Southern Solar Summit said Wednesday.
> Sponsored by the nonprofit Georgia Solar Energy Association, the
> first-ever summit attracted more than 100 solar installers, government
> agency officials, real estate professionals and others to two panel
> discussions. The summit preceded the ongoing Georgia Environmental
> Conference at the Hyatt Regency Savannah.
> Tom Lane, founder of the Gainesville, Fla.-based ECS Solar Energy
> Systems, promotes solar hot water systems, which his company installs.
> They're relatively compact on the roof, covering less than 100 square
> feet, and they quickly recoup their installation costs in energy
> savings.
> His rule
> of thumb is to look at your lowest electric bills of the year,
> typically in the spring and fall when heating and air conditioning is
> least used.
> Half of
> that bill is likely the monthly cost of water heating, he said.
> That cost savings is typically greater than the monthly payment
> on a loan for a solar water heater. Plus, the installation increases
> home equity.
> "It's costing you money not to do it," Lane said.
> Other places where the sun shines less intensely and less
> frequently than in Georgia, such as New Jersey and Germany, have
> already tapped into the sun much more.
> In large part, that's because of government mandates. New Jersey,
> for example, requires utilities to produce 22.5 percent of their
> electricity from renewable sources, at least 2 percent of which must
> come from solar sources. Georgia and most of the South have no such
> requirements.
> Such government policies are what's required to make solar
> competitive with coal and nuclear-generated electricity, said Ervan
> Hancock, manager of renewable generation Southern Company, the parent
> of Georgia Power.
> Under direction from the Public Service Commission, Georgia Power
> will soon triple the capacity of a program that buys back solar power
> from producers.
> The program is required to be revenue neutral, meaning the cost
> of the solar Georgia Power buys is offset by customers who pay a
> premium for green power. Currently, only about 4,400 customers buy
> green.
> "We're reassessing the marketing campaign to get those numbers
> up," he said.
> In the Southeast, Hancock said, it costs six times more to
> produce electricity with solar than with existing coal and nuclear.
> That won't always be the case, argued Ross Harding, managing
> partner of Energy Launch Partners LLC. Installing solar panels, either
> on a residential or larger scale, is a 20-30 year investment, he said.
> Over the
> next decade, traditional power sources are poised to see costs double
> while the sun will keep shining for free.
> "Ten years from now, if you don't do (solar), you're going to be
> really disadvantaged," he said.