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Georgia Bright Aims to Put Solar Power Within Reach

This coverage is made possible through a partnership with WABE andGrist, a nonprofit, independent media organization dedicated to telling stories of climate solutions and a just future.

The Port Wentworth neighborhood where rooftop solar installers Nicole Lee and Seth Gunning met up one fall afternoon was “ideal” for solar panels, they agreed. The houses were relatively new. The one they were sizing up had a clear expanse of roof in perfect condition.

“This is an amazing candidate for solar because it is solar-ready,” said Lee, the owner of Be Smart Home Solutions. “We know they have the newer upgraded electrical system. Plenty of sun because it is a newer neighborhood, so there are no mature trees.”

Lee and Gunning weren’t there to sell solar panels; they were evaluating the house for the new Georgia BRIGHT solar leasing program, funded by the national nonprofit Capital Good Fund. Available to households earning less than $100,000 annually, the program aims to reduce energy bills by making solar power affordable. This house, Gunning said, could expect a savings of about $400 a year.

Savings like that and other benefits of solar energy, like avoiding fossil fuel emissions and relying less on the power grid, remain out of reach for many people in that income bracket because of the high upfront cost. Buying solar panels and having them installed typically costs tens of thousands of dollars. While there’s a substantial federal tax credit to mitigate that cost, it can only offset a tax liability for individual households. If you don’t owe much on your taxes or typically get a tax refund, you don’t benefit from the credit. But a recent law could change that.

Under the Inflation Reduction Act, nonprofits like Capital Good Fund can now claim the tax credit as a direct refund and then pass those savings on to the customers who sign on to Georgia BRIGHT. It’s especially important to provide solar for the moderate-income households the program is seeking, organizers said, because those families often have to spend a greater share of their income on energy.

“This program levels the playing field for those families who are facing those energy burdens to help them reduce their energy costs,” said Lee.

While solar leasing isn’t new, it’s previously been offered mostly by for-profit companies. The change in tax law opened the field to nonprofits, who can often charge less, said Capital Good Fund founder and CEO Andy Posner.

“So if it’s a $10,000 system, and we’re gonna get a $3,000 refund check from the IRS, it costs us less to purchase the system,” he said. “Also, because we don’t have the same requirements for return on investment as a for-profit.”

For Savannah homeowner David Morgan, this all added up to a good fit. He bought his 1955 house a couple of years ago, and he’s been looking to install solar. Morgan works in disaster recovery, earning $65,000 a year, so he said he sees a lot of places dealing with extended power outages and wants to be less reliant on the grid. He also pays a steep $270 a month for electricity.

“I’ll be into the solar panel program for $98 a month,” he said of his Georgia BRIGHT solar panels. “And I should be using between $60 and $70 a month from Georgia Power.”

In other words, once the solar is installed early next year, Morgan can expect savings of about $100 a month. He said he’ll put that money toward retirement.

“Every little bit helps towards trying not to work when I’m old,” he said.

Morgan has opted for a system with battery storage, so he’ll have backup power when the sun isn’t shining or when there’s an outage on the grid. And he said he’s also glad he’ll be doing his part to fight climate change.

“If more folks get on board with trying to go with renewable energy and get away from just things that are really doing more harm than good,” he said. “And this is one of those programs that anybody can actually get involved in.”

The Georgia BRIGHT program is aiming to add solar power to around 200 roofs in the Atlanta and Savannah areas in the next few months, and after that, the organizers hope to expand.

Source: Wabe