By Guest Columnist DON MORELAND, past chairman of the Georgia Solar Energy Association and a local business owner
By now you have likely heard a lot about solar energy. You may have heard that solar is fast becoming the least expensive, most resilient, and cleanest source of energy for homes and businesses. In fact, every 90 seconds a new solar energy system is installed in the United States.
You may also know that the cost of solar has come down by 70 percent since 2010, and that there is a 30 percent tax credit available to help reduce the upfront cost. And you may even be lucky enough to have a Solarize program in your community that can help reduce the costs by another 20 percent.
But what you may not have heard is that now is the best time to go solar. That’s right, now is the time.
Policy and market forces at play make 2018 and 2019 the sweet spot to get the most bang for your buck in a solar installation. There are three main drivers that affect the cost of solar and value of a solar investment that everyone should know:
Tax credit phasing out after 2019
Since 2006, homeowners and business owners are eligible for a 30 percent federal tax credit to help reduce the upfront cost of solar. This tax credit applies to the entire cost of the system, including components (panels, inverters, racking/mounting structure), permitting, labor, etc. The tax credit also applies to energy storage systems when purchased and installed with solar at the same.
The 30 percent tax credit is good for 2018 and 2019 but starts to phase out after that. For residential solar, the tax credit will phase out entirely in 2023 and level out to 10 percent for businesses. So if you are considering going solar anytime in the next few years, and you want to maximize the use of the tax credit to reduce the upfront cost and your tax liability, you will want to purchase and install sometime before the end of 2019 to get the full 30 percent tax credit.
Electricity rates are projected to resume historic rate increase
In 2016, the Georgia Public Service Commission and Georgia Power agreed to freeze rates until the next rate case, in 2019. A lot has happened since then. Georgia Power purchased Atlanta Gas Light for $12 billion and the costs to build Plant Vogtle 3 and 4 have soared to a total of $25-plua billion. These two events have not been factored into rates yet, but all that’s about to change in 2019.
Before the freeze on rates, according to the last 21 years of data available on the PSC website, Georgia Power customers experienced an average bill increase of 2.5 percent per year. If we are to assume that amount of increase will resume in 2019, then rates will increase 15 percent over the next six years.
While rates are projected to continue their historic rise, solar does not. Because there is no fuel cost (energy from the sun is free) and very low operating and maintenance cost, solar works perfectly as a hedge against increasing utility rates.
Most solar panels come with a 25-year production warranty so you can count on solar as a reliable and enduring source of energy for decades. Using solar as a hedge in the summer months goes even further to reduce high peak demand charges.
Solar generates more energy in the summer months when energy demand spikes and the cost of energy go up. Solar generates more energy when energy is the most expensive and saves homeowners and business money.
Solarize Atlanta saves 20-plus percent off the cost of solar – but not for long
Solarize Atlanta is a community-based solar energy group purchasing program that makes solar more affordable and accessible for the residents of Atlanta. The more people who sign up to go solar, the lower the price gets for everyone. Solarize programs leverage the group purchasing power of the crowd to get discounts on materials and installation for each participant.
Solarize Atlanta is currently at Tier 3 pricing ($2.60 per watt), which is already 20 percent less than the cost of solar outside this program and the lowest price ever seen in Georgia. The goal is to reach one megawatt of residential solar to reach Tier 6 pricing ($2.45 per watt).
The enrollment period expires Oct. 31 for Atlanta residents to lock in discount pricing and get a free, no-obligation solar and battery storage evaluation. Note: participants have until Dec. 31 to make a decision and sign a contract.
Bonus: Solar increases property values
Solar generates electricity that you would otherwise need to purchase from somewhere else. In fact, solar generates more energy when we need it the most and when electricity from the utility costs the most – during the hot summer months when air conditioners are blaring in the hot summer sun.
Solar reduces the overall cost to operate and maintain the home because you are generating your own energy and purchasing less from the utility.
Therefore, it makes common sense that solar would increase the value of your home and these studies and reports support that conclusion universally across several regions on the U.S., including our own.
Now, on to the reports:
- Even if you do not stay in your home for the entirety of the average payback period (8-12 years), according to these studies, you will recover your investment when you sell your home.
- Also note, the average premium that comes with solar, $15,000, is not discounted by the 30 percent federal tax credit or the 20-plus percent savings gained through a Solarize program.Thus, not only will you get your full investment back when you sell your home, you will very likely come out way ahead.
So what does all this add up to? The tax credit will soon start to phase out, rates are projected to once again resume their historical increase of at least 2.5 percent annually, and the discounts available through Solarize Atlanta are available for a limited time. All this makes now the best time to go solar and use your property to generate your own electricity and take control your energy with clean, renewable energy.
Notes to readers:
- For more information about whether your property qualifies for a solarize program in Georgia, visit solarcrowdsource.com or call 770-288-0440.
- In addition to his service with GSEA, Don Moreland is the founder of Solar CrowdSource, a community-based initiative reducing the costs of solar. He began working in the solar industry in 2011, developing utility-scale and distributed generation solar PV projects.