The recent passage of the Solar Financing and Free Market Act of 2015 has paved the way for affordable access to solar energy for homeowners, home builders, state agencies and industrial companies in Liberty County and the surrounding communities, incuding Bryan County.
House Bill 57, which took effect July 1, will help homeowners finance some of the cost in having solar-power systems installed at their homes.
But for local state agencies, school systems and industrial companies, the new law gives them the opportunity to tap into huge savings with little or no upfront fees or costs.
Former star athlete, school administrator, athletic director and educator Candler Boyd is passionate about enhancing educational opportunities for children and young adults. Boyd recently came out of retirement and is serving as the industrial-
education division manager for Coastal Solar in Hinesville. The company, just about five weeks old, has re-ignited Boyd’s passion to help local school systems reduce their energy costs and, in turn, put the money saved back into the classroom.
“I deal primarily with schools and some industry and, with this program, there is no financing,” Boyd explained, saying school systems and government agencies qualify with no cost. “None whatsoever. And that is what a lot of people are having a hard time wrapping their head around.”
He said HB 57 allows the purchase of solar power through a third-party instrument known as a Power Purchase Agreement, or PPA.
Boyd said Coastal Solar currently works with Origis Energy and EDT Engineering for educational and industrial clients.
Offering a brief explanation of how a PPA works, Boyd said EDT would develop the site plan based on extensive research of the facility where the solar-power system would be installed.
“A lot of detail work goes into this. Roof structure, what’s on the roof, available ground, the angle of the roof, canopy cover … every little detail you can think of,” he said.
After the plan is drawn up, Origis would procure, install, operate and maintain the solar-power system as the “owners.”
The school system, or “client,” enters into a long-term agreement with Origis to purchase 100 percent of the electricity generated from the system.
Under a PPA, the “owner” and “client” both benefit from certain federal incentives written into the bill.
A huge incentive for the client is a lower and predictable cost of electricity over the length of the contract. The client doesn’t need to deal with permitting or design issues because those are handled by the power-system owner. The owner of the system, not the client, is responsible for operating and maintaining the system.
“Of course, the amount of energy saved is dependent on a lot of things,” Boyd said. “Every case and situation stands on its own. We just completed a preliminary study for an area high school that showed that they would save considerably, on the average and over the course of a 20- to 25-year term … they would save about 15-18 percent.”
Boyd said those savings can then benefit students’ education.
“If I can help redirect some of the taxpayers’ money away from power costs into program for student improvements … which leads to student achievement … that is what education should be all about,” he said.
Boyd added that it is a great way for science teachers to incorporate a hands-on approach in teaching their students about solar energy.
“Have that incorporated into their science curriculum, as many other schools have already done,” he said. “We are behind the times on this. The West Coast and then New England, they are the leaders on this.”
Boyd added that some schools have found ways to boost their income while partnering with a solar-energy provider.
“There was one school system that partnered with the local utility and, for every residential home they brought into the solar program, they got a $500 bonus,” he said. “They raise $10,000, which paid for every field trip they went on. It’s just so many applications that we are just starting to learn about, and it is exciting.”
Doug Hutto, Coastal Solar’s director of operations, said the fledging company was started off research done by Clay Sikes in 2013.
“He began looking at solar energy. … Back in 2013, it wasn’t economically viable,” Hutto said. “Since the passage of that bill, it has opened a lot of doors up both in the industrial and educational areas, as well as made it more accessible to individual homeowners.”