Affordable solar options discussed at meeting

Sarah Wibell News

Solarize Newton-Morgan, a community-based bulk purchasing program making solar installation significantly more affordable, held its launch party in Covington on Thursday, September 6. The gathering enabled members of the two counties to meet both the organizers of the initiative and representatives of the installation company, garner information about solar power, and participate in a question and answer session. Another informational event will be held at the Public Safety Building Meeting Hall, Suite 400, in Madison on October 4 at 5 p.m.

What began as a grass-roots organization of pro-active individuals in Newton County evolved into the nonprofit Sustainable Newton. Choosing to focus on solar energy, Sustainable Newton formed a public-private coalition Solarize Newton-Morgan. Members include Solar CrowdSource, Madison-Morgan Conservancy, Environment Georgia, Oxford Organic Farm, Newton County Water & Sewerage Authority, Smart Growth Newton County, and Georgia Interfaith Power and Light (GIPL). Solar CrowdSource has conducted successful solarize campaigns in Athens, Savannah, Tybee Island, Dunwoody, and other cities in Georgia.

Drawing upon the expertise and experience of coalition members, Solarize Newton-Morgan utilized a rigorous competitive bidding process to evaluate product quality and price before choosing Alternative Energy Southeast (AES) as the contracted solar provider.

Buyers receive approximately 20-22 percent savings on the cost of installation and products. A six-tiered volume-discount pricing system indicates the reduced costs as more residential or commercial structures are solarized. In addition to cost savings on equipment and installation, residential and business property owners can take advantage of the 30 percent federal tax credit that is currently offered.

Theodosia Wade, spokesperson for Sustainable Newton and retired Professor of Biology at Oxford College of Emory University, elaborated, “Through bulk purchasing, as a group, we have purchasing power. That’s been a really important thing to try to bring that price down. Solar equipment and panels in general have come down greatly over the years in pricing, but this really makes it a lot more affordable.”

Wade added, “Ten percent of the net profits will be donated to nonprofits in our communities. That, to us, is also important when we think about sustainable practices.”

Georgia Safari Conservation Park CEO Bill Kilmer spoke about the 530-acre park that plans to open in Spring 2020:

“The Safari Park is all about conservation, so we will be bringing exotic animals from rhinos to giraffes to zebras – you name it. Conservation is our middle name. (In addition to the animals,) we’ll be working on conservation globally by saving land and by solar energy. We’re really excited about how we can bring this into our project, and we have partnered up with the people from Alternative Energy Southeast. We’re all about partners, conservation, and making a difference.”

During the Q&A, several people asked about and commented on the stand-by fees that some cities like Oxford and Covington charge customers who utilize both solar power and power delivered through the cities’ power grids.

Oxford City Council Member David Eady elucidated, “The concern is a loss of revenue because a lot of cities – Oxford and Covington in particular – get a lot of revenue from our electrical utilities. (There is) a lot of surplus compared to the cost of those utilities, and we use that to off-set the cost of general government operations. So, we would have to look at any loss of revenue and how to off-set that with something else. We want to make sure we aren’t losing revenue to the detriment of the town.

“That said, we don’t know what the market of penetration is going to be in Oxford specifically. I would love to see all my neighbors sign up, but if all 600 homes in Oxford sign up, we’d have to have a significant conversation as a community of how we’re going to make up that loss of 30 percent or more of our electric utility revenue. That’s a conversation that I and other council members are prepared to have.”

Oxford’s City Council has recently met with members of the Solarize Newton-Morgan group during a work session to discuss the topic. Another such session will be held in Covington on October 1.

This one-time purchase plan’s enrollment period ends January 31, 2019, with all installations to occur by December 31, 2019. To receive a free solar assessment of a home or business, click “Solarize Now” on the following website: http://www.solarcrowdsource.com/campaign/newton-morgan/.

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