Report Urges Atlanta to Go Solar; Mayor’s Office Not too Keen


(APN) ATLANTA — A new report by Environment Georgia identifies some opportunities that the City of Atlanta, not just the government sector but as a whole, can pursue to increase the proportion of solar energy in the city’s overall energy portfolio to ten percent by the year 2030.

The report, “A Bright Future: Building a Solar Atlanta,” was prepared by Jeanette Gayer of Environment Georgia, and released yesterday, March 13, 2013.

“Atlanta has vast untapped potential for solar energy. The city is blessed with 2,800 hours of
sunlight a year, far more than Germany, the world leader in solar power generation,” the report states.

The report says the City of Atlanta can achieve the goal of ten percent by 2030 by pursuing photovoltaic (PV) solar panel installation projects.

“Utilizing all available rooftop space with suitable sun exposure, residents, businesses and government in the City of Atlanta could technically install nearly 1,400 MW of rooftop solar photovoltaic (PV) power systems by 2030—which would generate about 21 percent of the city’s total forecast electricity use in that year,” the report states.

The report notes that to meet the goal of ten percent by 2030, only 44 percent of suitable rooftop space would need to be used for solar panel installations.

The report also urges the City of Atlanta to pursue solar hot water systems.

The report says that City leaders should set a goal, presumably by legislation, to achieve the target of ten percent by 2030.

The report suggests requiring new homes to be built with solar panels, or at least to be solar-ready. “Atlanta should require all new buildings and retrofitted buildings to be solar ready by 2020 and include some sort of renewable power by no later than 2030.”

The report also discusses different financing strategies.

“In addition to federal incentives the state of Georgia offers the Clean Energy Property Tax Credit
(CEPTC) which gives homeowners a 35% income tax credit on solar electric and solar water heating devices installed on a residence (maximum of $10,500 credit for solar electric and $2,500 for solar water heating property). The CEPTC is currently scheduled to expire December 31st 2014 and is capped at $5 million per year,” the report states.

“Property assessed clean energy (PACE) financing is a powerful tool that allows a city to offer loans for energy efficiency improvements or renewables installation that are paid back
through property tax bills over several years. PACE financing has faced regulatory confusion for residential properties but is being used successfully to help finance solar and other clean energy upgrades on commercial properties in cities around the U.S., including here in Atlanta where the fund is managed by Ygrene Energy Fund,” the report notes.

Atlanta Progressive News can reveal that the City of Atlanta government under the Kasim Administration has so far rejected the idea of installing solar panels on government buildings such as City Hall.

APN first raised the question in 2012 of whether the City of Atlanta could install solar panels on city property in public remarks before then-Chairwoman Natalyn Archibong (District 5) of the City Utilities Cmte. Archibong said she supports the concept. However, she is no longer Chairperson of the Cmte and has been replaced by Council President Ceasar Mitchell with Howard Shook.

At the time, Archibong requested that the City’s Office of Sustainability provide information regarding whether it had considered the use of solar energy.

The Office of Sustainability responded in a memo dated September 20, 2012, authored by Denise Quarles, Director of Sustainability.

Quarles wrote that the City government does not use any solar panels on any of the City’s building facilities.

Quarles wrote that City had investigated the possibility of both solar panels and solar water heating.

“Our detailed analysis of solar opportunities for municipal use, given the 3 factors: Cost, Return on Investment (ROI), and projected energy savings/generation for our building portfolio, does not prove to be a valuable investment of the city’s resources,” Quarles wrote.

Quarles then provided a cost estimate for how long the City believes it would take to pay back the cost of installing a solar water heating system, before the City would start saving money by not using electricity or gas to heat water.

Quarles estimated it would take twelve years to pay back the cost of installing such a system at a recreation center, and sixteen years to pay back the cost of installing such a system at a fire station.

However, Quarles did not provide an estimate for solar panels.

The Environment Georgia report did not address the issue of solar panels or solar water heating at City Hall, although APN made the organization aware of the memo prepared for Councilwoman Archibong and the City’s conclusions.

The report did, however, include a sidebar regarding solar power options at the airport.

“The possibility of solar PV and hot water at the airport was explored in a 2008 Georgia Tech report, ‘Sustainability Options at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.’ In 2008
the authors found that solar hot water would be a good economic investment for the airport, while PV remained too expensive,” the Environment Georgia report states.

“The [Georgia Tech] report should be revisited and the new and lower costs of PV installation should be investigated and the experiences of airports, that have gone solar, including the Chattanooga and Denver airports, should be taken into account,” the report states.

According to Charlie Coggeshall, Renewable Energy Manager for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, municipalities are not able to take advantage of federal tax credits because, he said, municipalities do not pay taxes to the federal government, and thus there is nothing to credit.

However, he said that cities are often in a better position to take advantage of low-cost financing opportunities that families and businesses do not necessarily have available to them.

“There are grants out there,” Gayer added.

Coggeshall noted that Atlanta also had the opportunity to take advantage of the Qualified Energy Conservation Bond (QECB) issued to Georgia by the federal government.

“I bet they’d be able to find a solar developer willing to do a great discount if their names are gonna be on plaque and they’d be at a press conference with the Mayor,” Gayer said.

“The city should be a leader on this stuff. A great way to be a leader is to lead by example. They should be looking for ways to do it cheaper and do it now, or swallow the extra costs and do it now,” she said.

While Atlanta is still coming up with excuses, the City of Dublin, Georgia, is taking such a leadership role.

On Monday, March 11, 2013, local elected officials and business executives announced an agreement between the City of Dublin, Laurens County, and Greenavations, Inc. to provide the city’s high school with inexpensive and reliable solar energy.

The new project would create 1.1 megawatts of solar-generated electricity, from over four thousand solar panels, for Dublin High School, paid for through a series of bonds issued by the city and county.

“This is a win-win situation for Dublin High School, the city of Dublin and Laurens County,” State Rep. Matt Hatchett (R-Dublin) said. “We hope that this project causes other folks around the state to think about how cost-effective and reliable solar projects can help strengthen our local economy.”

“Bringing solar to Georgia has not been easy, but when people work together this is what can happen. This Dublin solar project is going to be a model for similar projects across this state,” Georgia Public Service Commissioner Lauren “Bubba” McDonald, said.