City of Atlanta Preparing to Embrace Solar Panels
Former State Rep. Stephanie Stuckey Benfield (D-Atlanta), director of Atlanta’s Office of Sustainability, told Atlanta Progressive News that she’s working with various departments to finalize a plan to install solar panels at municipal buildings, landfills, water treatment plants, and airports.
“We see the potential for approximately 13 megawatts of solar capacity if the City executes the full range of solar options,” Benfield said in an email.
That’s enough to power about 2,132 homes, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. That number, however, is a national average. The number of homes powered by one megawatt of solar photovoltaics varies from state to state depending on sunshine, temperature, wind, and household consumption.
The Office of Sustainability has considered solar power in the past.
APN previously reported that in 2012, Denise Quarles, who preceded Benfield as the city’s Sustainability Director, issued a memorandum on solar power in response to questions raised by Councilmember Natalyn Archibong (District 5).
Archibong wanted to know whether any municipal buildings used solar panels, and whether the Office of Sustainability had conducted a cost-benefit analysis of solar power.
Quarles responded that no municipal buildings used solar panels and that her office had conducted a cost-benefit analysis that found solar power to be financially unfeasible.
She included two examples of solar thermal systems for providing hot water to recreation centers and fire stations that would take twelve and sixteen years, respectively, before the initial investments paid off.
“In 2012, with the cost for the solar panel technology and the return that the city would receive from the installation of the panels, there wasn’t a win in the short term,” Archibong told APN.
“It’s very exciting to know that while that was said in 2012, the innovation around solar panels has changed so that this is something we are going to do. I’m very pleased with the direction that the City is going in at this point,” she said.
Benfield said Quarles “was looking at engaging in the Advanced Solar Initiative, which offered less attractive financing options for the City.” ASI is an initiative of Georgia Power to slightly use of solar power across Georgia.
Meanwhile, “with the enactment of the new law in Georgia allowing for third party financing of solar installations, the market outlook for solar has changed dramatically. The Office of Sustainability’s position on solar has shifted based on these critical new factors,” Benfield said.
The City’s solar plan will be included, at least at the conceptual level, in the Atlanta Climate Action Plan, which City Council of Atlanta passed unanimously on September 21, 2015.
The details of the solar plan, however, have yet to be ironed out.
At a City Utilities Committee meeting on September 15, 2015, Archibong asked that the Office of Sustainability present a full, detailed report on the solar plan at the next meeting, which will take place on September 29, 2015.
Both Archibong and Benfield have worked with the advocacy group Environment Georgia on creating momentum for solar power in Atlanta.
In 2013, Environment Georgia released a study showing that, by 2030, twenty-one percent of Atlanta’s electricity use, or 1,400 megawatts, could be generated by solar panels if they were installed on municipal buildings, businesses, and homes.
“We need [solar panels] on more than just City property. We need it on all available rooftops,” Jennette Gayer, Director of Environment Georgia, told APN.
“If the City is leading the way, that’s a great first step,” she said.
Environment Georgia has worked with other municipalities to “solarize.”
Solarizing is a process where a city facilitates bulk purchasing of solar power systems by bundling homeowners, businesses, and municipal buildings into one purchase in order to reduce the cost.
According to Environment Georgia, solarize programs can cut costs by twenty-four percent.
They also build momentum for solar by making it easier for consumers to navigate the process.
“Rather than one person at a time shopping around for the best deal, they can take advantage of a central entity reviewing proposals and working out the details for them,” Gayer wrote in an article, co-authored by Tybee City Councilman Paul Wolff, for the Georgia Solar Energy Association.
In 2014, the City of Tybee became the first city in Georgia to launch a solarize program. The program was so popular that it expanded to include all of Chatham County.