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Solar power attracts agribusiness to help grow power grid

POSTED: September 25, 2013 9:39 p.m.

It seems no matter where you are in Georgia, solar power is getting more popular. I was recently with co-workers in Habersham County and we took a look at a farm where solar panels had been installed. It was a great operation, and the farmer seemed well pleased with his investment.

Dozens of agribusiness owners are making the same decision and contracting to sell electricity to the Georgia Power Co. As part of the Advanced Solar Initiative, the property owner installs the necessary equipment and may get tax credits, while the utility agrees to pay $0.13 per kilowatt for at least 20 years.

Getting into the program isn’t easy, though. Georgia Power committed to sign up 90 megawatts of “distributed generation power,” electricity made by individual farms and businesses throughout the state. Contracts for half that amount were signed this year; another 45 megawatts will be offered next year.

The utility received more than 900 applications this year and approved around 80.

“It’s crazy demand,” said Greg Kelly, vice president of Sales & Marketing for Hannah Solar, which installs solar panels and other infrastructure in agricultural areas.

“We had a lot of people who put in multiple locations. Because it was a lottery, they applied for several locations to see what they could do.”

The program is open to all sorts of businesses — not just farms — but the offer is popular with agricultural producers. Similar to farming, solar production requires an upfront investment in equipment and carries some risks, but pays off over time.

Hannah Solar is installing 15 megawatts of the contracts that Georgia Power approved for small-scale systems this year. Of the smallest systems (100 kilowatts), about 70 percent are for a farm or related agribusiness. Of the larger systems (1 megawatt), about half are related to agriculture, Kelly said.

State regulators are requiring Georgia Power to add more solar to its power generation system by 2016, and utility leaders have said they plan to give small-scale generators (like farmers) a chance to contract in 2015 and 2016.

“I don’t think we are going to run out of people who can make this work,” Kelly said. Hannah reps are asked regularly to present information to trade groups like cotton and peanut growers “because there is so much demand among members,” he said.

Solar power is just another way a producer can diversify his operation and create a long-term investment.

Written by Allison Floyd, www.GrowingGeorgia.com

Michael Wheeler is county extension coordinator for the UGA Cooperative Extension office in Hall County. You can contact him at 770-535-8293, www.hallcounty.org/extension. His column appears biweekly on Thursday’s Business page and at gainesvilletimes.com.


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